In the U.S., we talk about feral cats and stray cats as a problem of “cat overpopulation” that must be combated.
In Japan, there are not one but two “cat heaven islands.”
Tashiro-jima is a small island known as “cat island.” It is located in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula and has a population of only about 100 people, with 83 percent of them 65 years or older. In the past, islanders raised silkworms for silk and cats were needed to fend off mice. Fishermen also frequented Tashiro-jima and, when they stayed at inns, cat would appear seeking scraps. Over time, the fishermen found observing the cats helpful, to predict weather patterns.
After a fisherman saw a cat killed by a rock, he buried it and built a shrine, now known as Neko-jinja. It was the first of what are now ten cat shrines in Miyagi Prefecture (where Tashiro-jima is located); there are also 51 stone monuments in the shape of cats.
In addition, there are a number of cat-shaped buildings — with ear structures on their roofs — built by Manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori.
Tashiro-jima was quite close to the 2011 earthquake that caused such terrible damage and loss of life in Japan. According to reports, the island’s residents, human and cat, survived the quake. They were immediately in need of food which the organization Animal Friends Niigata, along with rescue workers, were able to get to them.
Getting to Tashiro-jima from Tokyo requires a bit of effort, including travel by train and ferry. TofuguTV documents a trip there with plenty of photos of the cats; the island, he writes, is “definitely peaceful and has a nice atmosphere.” His video gives you a tour.
Japan’s second cat island is not (yet) as well-known. For five years, photographer Fubirai has been observing the lives of semi-wild cats on the island in Fukuoka, a city in northwestern Japan. (You can also see 50 photos of the cats in a much larger format via BuzzFeed). Quite a few of Fubirai’s photos (some taken just days ago) really capture the antics, and the good life, the cats live in co-existence with humans.
Both Tashiro-jima and the Fukuoka island seem, indeed, “peaceful” with a “nice atmosphere.” Guess that’s what can happen with a population so feline.
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