Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in Japan to Meet Feline Friends

Happy Cat Day (22 February): 5 Cat Islands in Japan to Meet Feline Friends

Are you a cat (猫 neko) lover? If you’ve been to Japan, you might have noticed how beloved cats are over there. Think maneki-neko (招き猫) cat figurines that beckon luck, the soothing Neko-atsume cat-collecting game, feline train station masters (we miss you, Tama!), cat motifs on everything and anything, and more. So well-loved are cats that in 1987, 22 February was designated as Neko-no-Hi (猫の日)―Cat Day―to thank cats for the happiness and joy they bring. 

Why 22 February? In Japanese, “nya” (ニャ) or “nyan” (ニャン) is the sound a cat makes, equivalent to “meow” in English. These sound like “ni” (二), or “two” in Japanese, so 22 February (ni ni ni) was chosen for all the meows it represents.

 

Island cats enjoying the sea view
Cats enjoying the sea view | Photo by photoAC

In honour of this special day, in this article we’ll introduce five cat islands in Japan that you can visit to meet feline friends. On these islands, you can see cats leisurely lying on the beaches and roadsides, taking daytime naps, and running across the little alleys! 

 

But why cat islands?

Japan is made up of many islands, and it is believed that cats settled on smaller islands due to the fishing industry. The cats would eat the leftover fish that could not be sold, and locals kept them around as they also helped manage the rodent population.

 

Ainoshima: The Island of Love

Cats of Ainoshima, Fukuoka, Japan
Lovely cats greet you at every corner of "Love Island" Ainoshima | Photo by photoAC

First up, we start off strong with Ainoshima (相島) in Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県), which was selected by CNN.com as one of the “5 spots in the world where cats outshine humans” in 2013. This heart-shaped island, also known as the “Island of Love” (愛の島 Ai-no-Shima), is home to 100 cats who roam the island freely.

 

Cats patiently waiting for fish...
Ainoshima is popular with visitors | Photo by photoAC

Ainoshima is also home to a human population of around 300, and has a 5.4km ring road that goes around the island. Due to its proximity to the mainland and relatively short ferry ride compared to other islands on this list, Ainoshima’s easy access makes it a popular day-trip from Fukuoka, so don’t miss it if you’re in the area! 

 

Ainoshima (相島)
Nearest station: JR Fukuokadaimae Station (福岡大前駅)
Access: From JR Fukuokadaimae Station, walk to Shingu Port, and take a 20-minute ferry ride to Ainoshima Port.

 

Manabeshima: A Fishing Village with A Traditional Atmosphere

A traditional fishing village with cats
Manabeshima retains the atmosphere of a traditional fishing village | Photo by photoAC

Located 31km off the coast of the main island of Honshu, Manabeshima (真鍋島) in Okayama Prefecture (岡山県) is a peaceful, relatively isolated island that has retained much of the atmosphere of a traditional fishing village. Coupled with its warm climate, these factors have made the island a favourite among film crews, with movies such as Gokumonjima (獄門島) and Setouchi Boys Baseball Team (瀬戸内少年野球団) having been filmed there. 

 

A curious tuxedo cat
Manabeshima’s cats are friendly and curious | Photo by photoAC

The human population on this island is approximately 170, and cats roam freely across the island, which has a circumference of just 8km. You’ll see cats lounging around everywhere; they are not shy and will approach you, so this is a place to visit if you adore cats.

 

Manabeshima (真鍋島)
Nearest station: JR Kasaoka Station (笠岡駅)
Access: From JR Kasaoka Station, walk 3 minutes to Kasaoka Port, then take a 45-minute high-speed ferry ride from Kasaoka Port to Manabeshima’s Motoura Port.


 

Sanagishima: The Island of Jumping Cats

Jumping cat
Jumping cat at Sanagishima | Photo by photoAC

Next up, we have Sanagishima (佐柳島) in Kagawa Prefecture (香川県), located to the southeast of Manabeshima. This small island has a population of less than 100, and is known for something phenomenal: jumping cats!

 

A cat making a leapCat jump! | Photo by photoAC

Becoming a hot topic on Japanese social media, cat jumps (猫ジャンプ)―cats jumping over ledges along the coast―are synonymous with the island, so much so that many tourists and professional photographers come to snap away at the dexterous felines. The jumping cats can be seen near Motoura Port, which is near where the ferry stops.

 

Sanagishima (佐柳島)
Nearest station: JR Tadotsu Station (多度津駅)
Access: From JR Tadotsu Station, walk 20 minutes to Tadotsu Port, then take a 50-minute ferry ride from Tadotsu Port to Sanagishima’s Motoura Port.

 

Tashirojima: Stay at A Cat-shaped Cabin

Cats lounging on a bench
Hello there! | Photo by photoAC

 

One of the more popular and most-visited cat islands, Tashirojima (田代島) is located in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県), with a few hundred felines inhabiting the island, outnumbering the 70 humans. These cats are lovingly cared for by their human neighbours, who have even built a cat shrine on the island. Tashirojima used to be home to silkworm farms, and to protect the silkworm cocoons from rats, cats were brought over for pest control. 

 

A cat-shaped cabin at the cat island of Tashirojima
Fancy staying overnight at a cat-shaped cabin? | Photo by photoAC

One of the more well-developed cat islands, Tashirojima also boasts souvenir shops, eateries, and even cat-shaped cabins that you can stay at between the months of April to October. If you’re looking to get your feline fix while in Japan, this is the island for you!

 

Tashirojima (田代島)
Nearest station: JR Ishinomaki Station (石巻駅)
Access: From JR Ishinomaki Station, walk 15 minutes to the Ajishima Line Chuo Ferry Pier and take a 1-hour high-speed ferry to Tashirojima’s Odomari Port or Nitoda Port.

 

Aoshima: Where Cats Out-number Humans 10:1

A fat cat by the fishing pier
Aoshima’s cats were originally kept to keep rats away | Photo by photoAC

Finally, we end off our list with Aoshima (青島) in Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県). A small fishing island in northwest Shikoku, cats were originally kept to keep away rats that gnawed on fishing nets, but with no natural predators, the population ballooned, while humans moved out of the island over the years. At the moment, there are about 10 human residents compared to around 100 feline counterparts.

 

Designated feeding spots for our feline friends in Aoshima
Designated feeding areas at Aoshima | Photo by photoAC

Due to the low human population, there are no eateries, shops, or vending machines on Aoshima, so be sure to bring whatever food and drink you need, and bring your trash home with you. There are designated feeding areas on the island, where you can see the cats gather and play with them.

 

Aoshima (青島)
Nearest station: JR Iyonagahama Station (伊予長浜駅)
Access: From JR Iyonagahama Station, walk 6 minutes to Nagahama Port, and take a 35-minute ferry ride to Aoshima Port.

 

Other Things to Do on Neko-no-Hi

Visiting Cat Shrines

Cat shrines
Cat-themed shrines a-plenty | Photo by photoAC

If visiting a cat island is not feasible for your itinerary, how about visiting a shrine? Some temples and shrines like Tokyo’s Gotokuji (豪徳寺) and Myogi Shrine (妙義神社) have cat motifs, and offer limited edition goshuin (御朱印 stamps and calligraphy handwritten by monks) during Neko-no-Hi. Or, how about writing a wish on a cat-themed ema (絵馬 wishing board), or geting a cat-themed omikuji (おみくじ fortune slip)?

 

Snacking on Cat-Themed Confectionery

Cat-themed snacks from Japan
Confectionery at Neko Chef, perfect as souvenirs for your cat-loving friends | Photo by Carissa Loh

If you’re looking for something to eat, Japan is home to hundreds of cute confectionery, cakes, and cookies, and you’re bound to find a cat-themed one. On Neko-no-Hi, some of these cat-themed stores offer promotions and discounts, so do keep a lookout for them. Several brands and convenience stores like Family Mart also run Cat Day special campaigns with famous cat illustration series Mofusand!

 

Snacks and Beyond with JAPAN RAIL CLUB!

Japanese Snack Box Curated by JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Feeling hungry or craving cute treats? Get yourself a box full of delicious treats from Japan with JAPAN RAIL CLUB! Choose your preferred snack subscription plan to get started on your snack journey with us as we take you to various nooks and crannies of Japan, cat islands included! 

Subscribe by 29 February 2024 to enjoy savings of up to SGD55 (USD42) with these two promo codes IZUOFF3" or "IZUOFF6"—applicable when you subscribe to a quarterly (3-month) or bi-annually (6-month) plan with us. Have a nyan-tastic Cat Day!

Meet the author

Carissa Loh

Having visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, Carissa's next goal in life is to ride all of Japan's sightseeing trains and climb all its 100 Famous Mountains. Sounds like a dream? Check back in 50 years.

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A Beginner's Guide to Aki (秋): The Best Period, Spots, and Tips to Enjoy Japan's Autumn
Sue Lynn

A Beginner's Guide to Aki (秋): The Best Period,...

When is the best time and where are the best places to enjoy autumn in Japan? Here is a beginner’s guide to Japan’s autumn.

Wendy Ng Autumn

A Beginner's Guide to Aki (秋): The Best Period,...

When is the best time and where are the best places to enjoy autumn in...

From Beans to Brew: Exploring Japanese Coffee Culture
Sue Lynn

From Beans to Brew: Exploring Japanese Coffee C...

About Japanese Coffee When people think about beverages from Japan, tea usually comes to mind. But, let's not overlook Japan's robust coffee culture. Coffee, or kōhī (コーヒー) as it's called...

Snack Lover

From Beans to Brew: Exploring Japanese Coffee C...

About Japanese Coffee When people think about beverages from Japan, tea usually comes to mind....

The Railway Museum in Japan
Sue Lynn

One Ticket to Railway Day, Please: Exploring Ja...

Japan is known for its efficient and extensive railway network, which plays a vital and integral role in the daily lives of millions of people. So it's only fitting that there...

Sue Lynn Festival

One Ticket to Railway Day, Please: Exploring Ja...

Japan is known for its efficient and extensive railway network, which plays a vital and...

Shopfront of a train themed lifestyle shop Trainiart in Tokyo Station
Sue Lynn

October Maker’s Story: Railway Goods from TRAIN...

In line with the theme of “Tetsudo Encounters” this month, it's only fitting that we feature a snack from the shelves of TRAINIART. We recently visited the Gransta Tokyo Station...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

October Maker’s Story: Railway Goods from TRAIN...

In line with the theme of “Tetsudo Encounters” this month, it's only fitting that we...

Behold the Harvest Moon: Exploring Japan's Otsukimi Festival
Sue Lynn

Behold the Harvest Moon: Exploring Japan's Otsu...

One festival stands out after the succession of extravagant firework and dance festivals as summer draws to a close. From the mesmerising full-moon-viewing practices to savouring delicious tsukimi dango, Otsukimi offers an...

Sue Lynn Festival

Behold the Harvest Moon: Exploring Japan's Otsu...

One festival stands out after the succession of extravagant firework and dance festivals as summer...

Taiyaki
Sue Lynn

The Art of Japanese Sweets: Exploring Tradition...

From the traditional wagashi to modern adaptations, Japanese sweets are a delightful exploration of taste and tradition. Let's embark on a journey to discover the art of Japanese sweets—such as...

Sue Lynn Japanese Snacks

The Art of Japanese Sweets: Exploring Tradition...

From the traditional wagashi to modern adaptations, Japanese sweets are a delightful exploration of taste...

Savour the Ocean: Exploring Must-Try Japanese Seafood Snacks
Sue Lynn

Savour the Ocean: Exploring Must-Try Japanese S...

If there's one thing Japan is known for, it's the country's incredible range of seafood. Surrounded by the sea, Japan's geographic position has significantly influenced its culinary traditions, with seafood...

Snack Lover Japanese Snacks

Savour the Ocean: Exploring Must-Try Japanese S...

If there's one thing Japan is known for, it's the country's incredible range of seafood....

Friendly staff at Japanese snack shop
Sue Lynn

September Maker's Story: Rabbit motif snacks fr...

Hailing from Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Hamausagi has been making rabbit-themed snacks and confections for over 90 years.

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

September Maker's Story: Rabbit motif snacks fr...

Hailing from Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Hamausagi has been making rabbit-themed snacks and confections for over...

japan festival food yakisoba
Sue Lynn

What your favourite Japanese summer festival fo...

During the hot months of July and August, summer festivals (夏祭り natsu matsuri) are held all around Japan where celebrations take shape in the form of mesmerising dances (Awa Odori,...

Sue Lynn Festival

What your favourite Japanese summer festival fo...

During the hot months of July and August, summer festivals (夏祭り natsu matsuri) are held...

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan to Catch This Summer
Sue Lynn

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan to...

Summer in Japan is incomplete without a spectacle of fireworks! East Japan, where major cities like Tokyo, Sendai, Nagano, and Yokohama are located, is home to many exciting displays of...

Sue Lynn Summer

5 Exciting Fireworks Festivals in East Japan to...

Summer in Japan is incomplete without a spectacle of fireworks! East Japan, where major cities...