How Japan’s shrinking population has given rise to ‘cat islands’

How Japan’s shrinking population has given rise to ‘cat islands’How Japan’s shrinking population has given rise to ‘cat islands’
Ryan General
April 17, 2024
In Japan, several islands have become havens for felines, with cat populations now exceeding human residents.
About the “cat islands:” Japan’s shrinking populations in rural areas have resulted in about 11 islands being overrun by cats
  • Known locally as “nekojimas,” these islands draw tourists worldwide eager for close encounters with the free-roaming cats.
  • The most popular cat island is Aoshima, in Ehime prefecture, home to over 200 cats. The small picturesque fishing village is nearly uninhabited, with just five humans living there as of 2023.
  • Tashirojima, in Miyagi prefecture, has approximately 150 stray felines and 55 residents, as of 2021. It is famous for its cat shrine and manga-themed lodges for visitors. 
  • Cat tourism has helped fund restoration in some communities affected by natural disasters.
Where the cats came from: The proliferation of cat islands in Japan stems from local beliefs and historical practices aimed at controlling rodent populations. 
  • Cats were originally introduced in Aoshima to combat rodent infestations on fishing boats, eventually settling on the islands.
  • Tashirojima’s cats were initially brought to protect silkworms from mice, leading to their establishment on the island.
  • Meanwhile, some speculated that changes in habitat and resources following an earthquake may have contributed to the growth of Genakaishima Island’s cat population.
Concerns raised: While a cat-filled island sounds inviting to tourists, animal advocates have raised concerns about the sad reality for these felines.
  • While some islands have veterinarians, many lack the infrastructure to provide veterinary care for a majority of the cat population. Close living conditions have resulted in rampant illness and deaths, especially among kittens.
  • Competition for food (including tourist handouts) and territorial disputes are also causing significant stress to the cats. Without proper intervention, the growing tourism may further exacerbate population growth.
  • While some islands have begun implementing trap-neuter-return programs, it remains to be seen if these will help address population growth and related health issues.
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