Ailuromania is defined as having an abnormal love of cats. If you happen to be one of those who are afflicted with this specific obsession, there’s a place for you. On a mysterious and remote island in Southern Japan is a literal Island of Cats. Aoshima Island, known locally as the aptly named “Cat Island,” boasts a feline to human ratio of six to one — around 120 feral cats call the island home, while only 15 people are actually permanent residents.
Kind of makes your crazy neighbor with 11 cats seem sane by comparison, doesn’t it?
Not exactly a world class tourist destination, the Island of Cats doesn’t have a single store, and no cars run on the 1.6 kilometre land mass. There is a ferry, however, captained by Nobuyuki Ninomiya, that makes two trips daily, carrying a maximum of 34 passengers each trip. “I seldom carried tourists before, but now I carry tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer is cats,” Ninomiya told the Japan Daily Press.
This particular Nekojima, or Cat Island, first rose to internet fame in 2013 after someone posted a picture on Twitter of the island’s overwhelming kitty population.
— メガポ (@kolmetoista) September 24, 2013
Cats were brought to the island with its first settlers in the 1600s as a way of keeping the mice population down. Aoshima’s first settlers were fishermen who used silkworms to make their own fishing nets, and they needed the felines to protect the silkworms from mice, who are their natural predators. About a decade ago, reports Japan Daily Press, is when the cat population exploded. As the residents of the small island, who are mainly pensioners, got older and passed on, the cats ran rampant, breeding freely with one another.
Though Aoshima is undoubtedly Japan’s most famous Island of Cats — thanks to the internet — it is not the only one, nor is it even the biggest (although, it’s probably the only one that can claim a ‘cat-witch’ among its residents. Yes, you read that right). In fact, Japan has a total of 11 cat islands. Genkaishima, located near Fukuoka City on the Northern Shore of Kyushu Island, once enjoyed the esteem of having the largest feline population of all the cat islands until it was hit by an earthquake in 2005 that decimated its furry community. Residents are happy to report, however, that the kitties are making a comeback. Tashirojima, the second most popular cat island, even has an architect in residence that builds cat-shaped buildings.
It’s actually a commonly held belief in Japan that feeding cats brings wealth and good fortune, so it’s no wonder the country is home to not one, but eleven islands of cats.