All About Japan

The 11 Cat Islands of Japan

| Pets , Animals

While an island full of stray dogs is likely to be visited by animal control, an island covered in cats gets tons of tourists instead. This ability to live in general harmony with the human population means that Japan's filled with places that have earned the nickname “Nekojima,” or “Cat Island.” Today, we take a whirlwind photo tour of 11 of them.

1. Enoshima (Kanagawa)

For residents and visitors to Tokyo, the closest isle worthy of the Cat Island designation lies in Kanagawa Prefecture, the capital’s neighbor to the south. Enoshima, which can be accessed from a bridge across the street from Katase-Enoshima Station, is most famous for its shrine located inside a cave and the connected legend of a dragon that fell in love with a beautiful maiden.

The area’s beaches also make it a popular summertime destination for surfers, sunbathers and partiers. Stop by Enoshima on an offseason weekday afternoon though, and you’re likely to run into as many cats as people as you stroll up the winding path to the top of the island.

2. Okishima (Shiga)

Not every Nekojima is on the ocean, though, as Okishima is actually a floating island in the middle of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater depository in Japan. With just 350 residents, the fishing community is small enough that bicycles are the main mode of transportation on the island, meaning its feline inhabitants to live without fear of being hit by a car. Since there's no way of getting to the island by car, you'll need to hop on a boat at Horiki Port.

3. Sanagishima (Kagawa)

This is the one of several Cat Islands located in the Inland Sea, which is dotted with fishing settlements and blessed with a temperate climate. Sanagishima lies of the coast of Kagawa, Japan’s smallest prefecture that makes up the northeast corner of the island of Shikoku. To access the island, catch a boat from Tadotsu Port.

4. Aoshima (Ehime)

Moving west, we come to Ehime Prefecture, which is also a part of the Shikoku region. Aoshima might be the most sparsely populated of Japan’s Cat Islands, with just 15 permanent residents compared to several times as many felines.

This is strictly a day-trip destination, though. The advanced age of most of the community’s members mean that on Aoshima you won’t be able to find a hotel to spend the night, a restaurant to have dinner in, or, shockingly (for Japan), even a vending machine to buy a drink from. Make sure you stock up on supplies before you get on the boat at Nagahama Port.

5. Muzukijima (Ehime)

While many Cat Islands are home to fishing communities, Muzukijima instead is covered with citrus groves, keeping in with Ehime’s popular image as growing the best oranges in Japan.