James and I made the Japanese town of Sendai our home base for a few days since it was between Cat Island and Fox Village - two places on our list of things to visit before we went home. After visiting Cat Island, we came back to the hotel to crash for the night and got up early to pack our things and head for the Shiroishi train station via the Sendai station. After reaching Shiroishi we stowed our luggage in one of the train station's lockers (cost 600 yen, or about $6 USD) and then called a taxi to take us the rest of the way to Fox Village, which is only accessible by a small two-lane divided road that heads up into the area's mountains.
It was about a 25 minute taxi ride and cost about 3800 yen, or just under $40 USD each way. The cab driver also gave us a business card with his cab number on it so the Fox Village staff could call him when we were ready to leave and he would return to get us, which was nice. Otherwise we were just at the mercy of an upcoming visitor who happened to arrive via taxi. Once we made it to the Village, we paid a small entry fee of 1000 yen per person, or about $10 USD each, and we also purchased some pre-bagged fox food and rabbit food, which was 200 yen per bag, or about $2 USD. We were also given a printed no-no sheet to read that explained the dos and don'ts once you were inside and also a small cloth bag to keep the food in, as the foxes can apparently hear the crinkling of the plastic food baggies and chase you down for them.
Once we entered the main fox area, we were immediately hit with the zoo-like smell of copious amounts of fox poop. Online descriptions about the place warned about needing to wear hiking boots or something rugged to tromp through the poop that was everywhere, but he main walking trails that you were asked to stay on were kept very clean. I could only see poop being a problem if you wandered off to places you weren't supposed to go. We were also asked not to feed the foxes until we made it to their designated feeding area.
There were probably over one hundred foxes in the village, and there were separate areas that housed rabbits and guinea pigs, most likely the source of food for the foxes when us visitors weren't around. All of the animals seemed well-kept and unstressed. The foxes got a bit nippy with each other when we started tossing food down from the elevated feeding platform, but no one was injured and it just seemed to be part of their hierarchy. At certain times of day there are also staff who stand with tame foxes that you can hold and pet, but other than that, you are not allowed to reach out and touch any of the animals other than to toss food out to them. They made for some nice pictures, though!
The cat cafe was just the tip of the iceberg (no ship pun intended) when it came to animal interactions in Japan. Turns out there are several islands that are home to lots and lots of one particular animal, such as rabbits or cats. James of course picked to see one of the so-called Cat Islands. This one in particular is actually named Tashirojima and is off the coast of Ishinomaki, one of the hardest hit areas of the 2011 Tsunami. It is only reachable by ferry, which makes three round trips to the island per day. So be careful about what time you head over, because you may end up spending the night!
We came to Ishinomaki by train from our hotel in Sendai as a day trip. Ishinomaki is as close as you can get to Tashirojima by train, then you have to take a taxi from the train station to the Aijishima ferry port, which cost about 1000 yen, or about $10 USD. Once at the ferry port, you enter a small building that holds the ticket office and a waiting area. The tickets are bought via vending machine, and you can order a round trip so you don't have to worry about getting back. The bill acceptor on the machine was broken, but the lady behind the counter was able to change out some of our bills into coins for us so we could purchase our tickets. A round trip was 2460 yen per person, or about $25 USD.
The ferry ride was about an hour long and it stopped at both of the island's two ports. If you are going to see the cats, the second port, Nitoda, is recommended, as most of them are in that area. The island has very little to eat or do other than walk around and see the cats. There are also very few places to stay if you miss the last ferry, so be very careful. The island once had about a thousand people living on it, but now it is down to about one hundred. It also suffered damage from the 2011 Tsunami and there are signs in several places showing how high the water got. There are also empty slabs where buildings once stood and other buildings that are just abandoned, though whether that was from the tsunami or from decades of population decline is hard to tell.
There seem to be no cars on the island, but there are plenty of walking trails, including one to a cat shrine that was supposedly built by a fisherman who accidentally killed one of the island's cats. By the time we got to the shrine, we realized it was closer to walk to the island's other port rather than walk back to Nitoda, so we continued north to Ohdomari port to wait for the ferry. It was both chilly and windy that day, so we were glad we brought some jackets. The water was extremely choppy and the ferry was bobbing around and fighting through it as best it could. Luckily, it had indoor seating, so we could stay relatively warm and out of the sea spray that was hitting the deck.
Once you reach the dock, you see cats almost instantly. They seem to emerge from carts and crates and bushes as groups of people go by. You aren't supposed to feed them, but several people brought treats and dried catnip to coax them out. There is also a small shop on the island that sells catnip-filled stuffed toys that you can buy for them to play with. The cats range from completely feral to slightly domesticated. Most won't let you pet them, and a couple of them even took swipes at James, but they get close enough for some great photo opportunities.
Overall, we spent about three hours here, which was more than enough to check out both ports and the walking trail between them. For anyone interested in traveling to Tashirojima, a ferry leaves from Ishinomaki at 9:00 am, 12:00 pm and 3:30 pm, but keep in mind that if you take the last ferry, you will be staying the night as there are no more trips until the next morning. Likewise, if you miss the last pickup times of 3:33 pm for Nitoda and 3:35 pm for Ohdomari, you will be left on the island as well!
Hi, I'm Sarah and I'm a car nut, bird lover, and musician. I have recently transitioned from music teacher to automotive service manager, and there have been lots of cool stories and crazy characters along the way!