Crédits photo : Fubirai

Tashirojima : a remarkable density of kitties

TRANSLATED BY JONATHAN TRENTESEAUX

Tashirojima Island was on our visit bucket list. Mainly populated by cats, it is being called “Cat Island” for its 150 cats and kittens, while only 70 people live there as well. The island is overrun by wild cats, mainly fed by fishermen.

Credits : lifetoreset.wordpress.com

Credits : lifetoreset.wordpress.com

The cats’ paradise is to be found in Japan. Located in the Pacific Ocean, in the Oshika Peninsula, Tashirojima (田代島) is a very peculiar island. Nowadays considered as “uninhabited”, in 1950 however, the population of this little piece of land reached 1 000 inhabitants. Today, less than a hundred people live there. The island is divided into two villages: Oodomari and Nitoda, widely inhabited by cats – more than 150 – giving the island its nickname “Tashirojima, the Cat Island”. While the urban population is decreasing, a population of kitties is swarming. The reputation of the island is due to this distinctive feature.

The two villages are labeled as « genkai-shuuraku » (限界集落), “terminal villages”. Because of the ageing population, the villages are in danger of disappearing within the next few years. More than 80% of the population is more than 65 years old, and only one inhabitant is less than 45. Only a few fishermen and hotel managers remain.

In Japan, cats are far more resistant than nuclear stations. The island is very close to the epicenter of the earthquake that took place off the Japanese archipelago in 2011, thus it was almost entirely flooded by the tsunami.

Luckily, both human and feline populations were quite spared. The inhabitants got lucky, along with their furry friends, because they could run away from the deadly waves just in time, then minimizing the number of human and animal deaths. The seaport of Ishinomaki was razed to the ground, making Tashirojima a deserted place, cut from the rest of the world for several weeks. Oddly enough, the US army even gave the island pet food supplies.

This cat invasion is not a recent phenomenon. The region was a major producer of silkworms. The greatest threats to this local industry being mice, cats were introduced into the island to get rid of them. The silk production stopped, but cats and kittens stayed. Even if they are mainly stray and ownerless, kitties are all perfectly healthy. They easily let people come near them. This harmony is due to the local population’s belief that in Tashirojima, feeding and taking care of a cat is a sign of wealth and good fortune.

Legend has it that a local fisherman accidentally killed a stray cat while trying to fix his fishing net with a stone that hit the poor creature causing its death. Terribly sorry for this tragedy, the fisherman offered the furry animal a true burial, by building a perfect sanctuary – now situated in the South of the  island- in honor and memory of the cat. That is a trivial story for men, but an important one for the cats of the island. Since then, cats have the power to foretell precisely the weather and fishing conditions, according to the fishermen that have been feeding them for decades. Most of all, these cats must be pampered and respected. Sanctuaries have multiplied since then, and dogs were banned from the island.

CAT-LOVER TOURISTS

While human population is falling as the years go by, cat-lover tourists on the other hand are turning Tashirojima into one of their favorite destination spots. A year after the tsunami occurred, film-maker Hideaki Oba produced Neko no Sumu Shima (猫の棲む島), “The Island where Cats Live”, a five-minute anime aimed at presenting the disaster through the cats. This short anime was broadcasted on Japanese TV and made the island popular in the Japanese archipelago.

On the island, a lot of odd buildings can be found, even if of course, the cats and their exceptional presence are still the main attraction. Unusual apartments, designed in accordance with the feline model by famous manga comics’ writer Shotaro Ishinomari, gave another nickname to the place: “Manga Island”.

Although the future of the island is rather upsetting because of its ageing population, and also for the cats that are mainly fed and taken care of by these elderly people, the increase of tourism could save our furry friends. Since June 2007, someone called Fubirai has been taking pictures of them, in all situations and poses, and posting them in his blog, which the Journal International invites you to discover. Let’s take a feline trip!

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