Have you ever wished you could visit an island full of cats? If this sounds like a cat lover's fantasy island, it isn't. Aoshima, also known as the Cat Island, is a small fishing island off the coast of Ehime prefecture in Japan. Why is it called Cat Island? Because this amazing place is home to over 120 free-roaming felines!
Before the 2000s, Aoshima was a relatively isolated place, with few humans aside from the approximately 20 people who live there. Ever since the cat-loving Internet found out about Aoshima, though, tourism to the island has exploded. While there is a cap on daily visitors, which helps keep the elderly residents from becoming overwhelmed, it is absolutely possible for cat lovers the world over to come and check out the adorableness. If you have a vacation coming up, and you're looking to get swarmed by cats, Japan's cat island of Aoshima might be just the right choice.
On Aoshima, cats are the kings. They outnumber humans 6 to 1, though that number is a little skewed. There are only around 20 or so human residents on Aoshima, so they're not exactly hard to outnumber. Still, that's a pretty dramatic ratio, especially on such a small island (about 121 acres.)
Aoshima wasn't always as low on human residents as it is now. Approximately 380 years ago, inhabitants of what is now Hyogo Prefecture were attracted to Aoshima by the abundance of sardines in its waters. One source claims in 1945 there were 900 people living on the island, while another source says the population peaked in 1955 with 758 people. Either way, that's a lot more than the current population of approximately 20.
What happened? After World War II, many younger residents of Aoshima left the island to seek work elsewhere. The remaining residents were retirees who saw no need to leave. As the human population dwindled, the cat population exploded.
Before Aoshima's cat population swelled, there was a huge mice problem on the island. This is because villagers used to raise silkworms to make silk for their fishing nets. The silkworms attracted mice, so cats were brought in to solve the problem.
The cats made short work of the resident rodents, and today mice are a non-issue for the people of Aoshima.
If you want to go cat-watching on Aoshima, you absolutely can. Once you're in Ōzu, Ehime Prefecture, you can take the Yosan Line on the Shikoku Railway company to the JR Iyonagahama station. From there, walk to the Nagahama Port. Twice a day, there's a 35 minute boat trip to Aoshima.Unfortunately, Aoshima has nowhere for tourists to stay overnight, so unless you're personally acquainted with one of the residents, you'll want to make overnight arrangements elsewhere.