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!