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The Truth Behind the Cat Islands of Japan Where Felines Actually Rule

Apr 19, 2017 05:56 AM EDT
Moss Phlox Blooms In Hitsujiyama Park
SAITAMA, JAPAN - MAY 01: A cat is seen sitting in Moss phlox flowers in full bloom in Hitsujiyama Park on May 1,2008 in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Over 400,000 pink, white and purple 'Moss Phlox' bloom in approximately 16,500 square meters.
(Photo : Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

There's a pretty good reason why cat lovers flock to Japan. Not only does the country boast a good number of cat cafés, but the there are also 11 different cat islands that have been virtually dubbed as feline paradises. Cat lovers have been descending on these tiny isles hoping for a glimpse of fluffy kitties prowling the roads freely.

One of the most notable of the bunch is Tashirojima Island, a small fishing island off the coast of Ishinomaki City in the Miyagi Prefecture. According to Japan Guide, the hundreds of felines have long dominated the land, outnumbering human inhabitants by nearly four to one.

Originally brought to the island to combat pests that plagued silkwood farms, the feral cats now roam the streets and live peacefully alongside the people of Tashirojima. The animals are fed, cared for and even worshiped by the residents, who traditionally believe that cats bring good luck. Tashirojima residents have even gone as far as to not allow dogs on the island out of fear of the pups harming the cats who call the island home, a report from Atlas Obscura revealed.

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Another island that has gotten a lot of recognition for its four-legged citizens is Ainoshima Island in Fukuoka Prefecture. It has already been dubbed as Cat Heaven Island with hundreds of cats living on this tiny, half a square mile island. Ainoshima only has a population of around 500 people, according to a report from Huffington Post.

There's a darker side to these feline-filled utopias that aren't very heavenly, though. Animal photographer Andrew Marttila and his partner Hannah Shaw of cat rescue group Kitten Lady visited Ainoshima Island to get the unique experience and discovered that these felines are suffering from diseases.

"For us cat lovers, there's something pretty special about an area littered with dozens of cats," Marttila said in an email to Huffington Post. "What you\'re not seeing, however, are all the cats and kittens suffering from very treatable illnesses."

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Veterinary care for the street cats is virtually non-existent even while the lack of spaying and neutering continues to increase the population to dizzying levels. Shaw penned an article on Paw Culture with details of their trip, saying that a third of the cat population are younger kittens with untreated upper respiratory infections.

"Eyes and noses crusted, the kittens huddled together on the warm pavement of the only road on the island, many struggling to breathe," she wrote. In both Tashirojima and Ainoshima, the cats are relatively friendly, open to tourists offering food and affection.

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