Until last week’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, some of you may have heard about Cat Island but not many of you knew very much about it. You just knew that somewhere off the eastern Japanese coast was a tiny island where humans, most of them elderly, were outnumbered by cats. No dogs were allowed there, and the cats roamed freely and were loved and well cared for by both residents and visitors.
Cat Island was also right in the area most severely hit by the 8.9 earthquake of March 11 and subsequent tsunami.
Many humans immediately assumed that both the cats and their caretakers were done for. After all, with such massive devastation in the area, how could it be otherwise? Amazingly, it looks like the kitties and humans have made it through! Let me explain how this could be.
Cat Island, or Tashirojima (田代島), is about a four-hour trip northeast of Tokyo, ending in a 40-minute ferry ride from Ishinomaki. It pokes out of the water not unlike my big ears poke out of my head. In other words, in spite of its tiny size (8 square miles in total), Cat Island has a high elevation. The 100 or so residents (83% of whom are over 65) understand the vulnerability of their location all too well, and they would have immediately headed for the highest ground of the island. And the cats? Do you think we are dumb? I’m sure those kitties were beating those humans up the hill! Few cats want to get wet, and we are far faster than elderly humans, even ones as resilient as those who inhabit Cat Island.
And it looks like that is exactly what happened. Love Meow reports that a resident of Tokyo whose parents live on Tashirojima managed to find out that his folks are okay, even though the island itself moved about 30 centimeters downward (about one foot) and there was much damage. It may take awhile before we find out exactly how well Cat Island made it through this disaster — cell phone signals can be spotty, especially away from the ports, in normal times. And chances are a lot of the cute cat lodges and cat shrines that charmed travelers are history. Emergency supplies will likely have to be brought in by helicopter and this may even be happening already.
So while we are waiting for more news (hopefully good) from Cat Island, here are a few facts:
- Many, many years ago, the residents raised silkworms and made silk. The cats won these humans over with their mousing skills (believe it or not, mice are predators to silkworms!).
- The cats went on to charm the fishermen too. Free fish for life!
- There are no schools there (logical, since the majority of residents are cats or seniors).
- There are no gas stations either. The island gets fuel deliveries every two months.
- There are no banks.
- There is (or maybe was) a post office.
- The highest peak is 96.2 meters, or 315 feet, lending credence to the islanders, both feline and human, finding safety on high ground.
- There were seven inns on the island. This is the Google translation of the link to one of them.
- I am not really sure what this website is — even fed through the Google translator, I can’t figure it out. But it looks like fun and it’s where I found out about the highest elevation on the island.
And all the photos you see? Yes, they are all Tashirojima kitties, taken in October, 2010 by Rahen.