Tashirojima is a small island in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan. It lies in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula, to the west of Ajishima. It is an inhabited island, although the population is quite small (around 100 people, compared to around 1000 people in the 1950s). It has become known as “Cat Island” due to the large stray cat population that thrives as a result of the local belief that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune. The cat population is now larger than the human population on the island. There are no pet dogs on the island due to the large cat population.
The island is divided into two villages/ports: Oodomari and Nitoda. Ajishima, a neighbouring island, used to belong to the town of Oshika, while Tashirojima was a part of the city of Ishinomaki. On April 1, 2005, Oshika merged with Ishinomaki, so now both islands are a part of Ishinomaki.
Since 83% of the population is classified as elderly, the island’s villages have been designated as a “terminal village” genkai-shūraku which means that with 50% or more of the population being over 65 years of age, the survival of the villages is threatened. The majority of the people who live on the island are involved either in fishing or hospitality.
The island is also known as Manga Island, as Shotaro Ishinomori planned to move to the island. There are manga-themed lodges on the island, resembling cats.
Tashiro Elementary School closed down in 1989 and was turned into an educational center. The educational center closed in 2008. Manga Island, a tourist facility, was built in 2000. A 6 km and 10 km race called Hyokkori Hyōtan Tashirojima Marathon was held in 2007.
In 2011, the island was hit by the Tōhoku tsunami. Survivor reports suggest extensive damage to some areas of the island, but the feline population appears to have survived relatively intact.
In Japan’s late Edo Period, much of the island raised silk-worms for their textiles. The residents kept cats to chase the mice away from their precious silk-worms. Over time, this cat population left un-neutered began to grow immensely while the human population dwindled down to fewer than 100 residents. As of today, the feral cat population outnumbers humans 6 to 1 on this small Japanese Island.
However, the residents and thousands of tourists who flock to Tashirojima every year do not mind being outnumbered by their feline friends. In Japanese culture, the cat is considered a good luck charm, said to bring money and good fortune to all who cross their path. Some even claim that it was the cats who kept the majority of the island from being destroyed during the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
There is a small cat shrine, known as Neko-jinja , in the middle of the island, roughly situated between the two villages. In the past, the islanders raised silkworms for silk, and cats were kept in order to keep the mouse population down (because mice are a natural predator of silkworms). Fixed-net fishing was popular on the island after the Edo Period and fishermen from other areas would come and stay on the island overnight. The cats would go to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. Over time, the fishermen developed a fondness for the cats and would observe the cats closely, interpreting their actions as predictions of the weather and fish patterns. One day, when the fishermen were collecting rocks to use with the fixed-nets, a stray rock fell and killed one of the cats. The fishermen, feeling sorry for the loss of the cat, buried it and enshrined it at this location on the island.
There are at least ten cat shrines in Miyagi Prefecture. There are also 51 stone monuments in the shape of cats, which is an unusually high number compared to the other prefectures. In particular, these shrines and monuments are concentrated in the southern area of the island, overlapping with the regions where silkworms were raised.
Mentions in media
In 2004, a couple moved to the island from Sendai and opened up an inn for travelers called Hamaya. In 2006, they started a blog about the island and its inhabitants. On May 20, 2006, Terebi Asahi filmed an episode of Jinsei no Rakuen on the island, which mentioned the large cat population. Fuji Terebi’s film Nyanko the Movie featured a story about Droopy-Eared Jack Tare Mimi Jack), one of the cats on the island. The movie was spun off into a series, the latest one of which Nyanko the Movie 4 was released in July 2010. Each installed has included an update on Jack. As a result, many cat lovers come to the island and package tours specifically to “look for Jack” are now available. Cat photo contests and exhibitions are now held on the island.
In 2012, the BBC in the UK, presented a short television series called Pets – Wild at Heart, which features the behaviours of pets, including the cats on the island.
In 2015, Landon Donoho, an independent filmmaker, crowd-funded the production of a documentary titled “Cat Heaven Island”. It follows the stories of the inhabitants of the island, both old and new, human and feline.v
40 minutes on the Ajishima Line (ferry). Tashirojima is about 15 km from downtown Ishinomaki.