Like many rural areas of Japan, Tashirojima is slowly disappearing. At its height, the population was around 1,000; today, it is home to about 100 people, many of them elderly. The port area is in reasonably good condition, but heading up the hill into the forest reveals a number of abandoned and partially collapsed buildings.
Enter the cats. Various stories exist as to why there are so many of them; whether the cats are the cherished friends of the island's fishermen, the bearers of good luck, or the descendants of abandoned pets, felines now vastly outnumber humans on Tashirojima. The bemused islanders appear to have set aside an older manga-based tourism campaign and fully embraced the cat island concept.
Ferries run from Ishinomaki three times daily (¥2450 round trip). (Note that the third ferry arrives too late for a same-day return.) The Ajishima ferry office can be reached by taxi, bus from JR Ishinomaki Station (to Ajishima) or by walking east from the station until you reach the river, then turning right and following the river until you reach the Ajishima office (about 45 minutes). They hand out maps of the island which help to get around but does not include the Ajishima ferry.
The crossing takes about 45 minutes. Disembark at Nitoda (仁斗田). Oodomari port (大泊) is being rebuilt after being totally destroyed by a natural disaster.
Visitors should plan to walk everywhere. Two hours is enough time to make some furry acquaintances, amble uphill to the Cat Shrine, and return to the port. Walking along some of the longer paths on the island would require a longer stay. If you see a bus, it is likely to be the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro which may have a stop on Tashirojima.
Unless you're arriving on a fishing boat, you won't see many cats until you've left the immediate port area. They wander and lounge freely among the houses, anywhere there might be a handout, and show varied levels of interest in visitors. It seems like they remember treats from visitors and ignore you after finding out you don't have any.
- 1 Cat Shrine (猫神社 Neko-jinja). It is a steep hike uphill from the port, past the last few houses (and an abandoned school) and then a short distance into the forest. The path is not well marked (unless you read Japanese). It has a small gate and shrine covered in offerings and cat figurines.
- Do not feed the cats. The Islanders found that letting others feed them caused both health problems and caused them to become aggressive towards each other. You are welcome to bring cat food and treats as donations.
- Pet the cats. This privilege may be granted to those who are patient.
- Mediate arguments between cats. Certain intractable feuds have developed over time between the feline residents of the island. It is probably for the best that you avoid becoming entangled in these by stopping whatever it is that you are doing.
Buy, eat & drink
There are a couple of vending machines with a variety of drinks just like you see elsewhere in Japan.
There is a cafe selling food and souvenirs, just north of the old school, on the road between the two villages. It also hosts a photo exhibition of the island's cats.
- There are a couple of minshukus on the island, including Hamaya (¥8500 w/meal). But don't arrive without a reservation (or, at the very least, confirmation that it's open that day). Tashirojima does not see many overnight visitors.
- From April to October, the "manga resort" in one corner of the island is open and rents cat shaped cottages (sleeping 6-8) and campsites.
Sensibly enough, dogs are prohibited. Mice would be extremely well-advised to stay away.
As cute as the cats may be, these are semi-feral strays with claws; take care when letting kids approach them, and be prepared to clean and bandage any scratches.
Had your fill of cats? Try Okunoshima, which is overrun with rabbits.