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'Cat Island': cats outnumber people six to one

ABC News logo ABC News 3/03/2015
Cats crowd the harbour on Aoshima Island in the Ehime prefecture in southern Japan. © Reuters Cats crowd the harbour on Aoshima Island in the Ehime prefecture in southern Japan.

Tourists are flocking to a remote island in southern Japan, where an army of feral cats now outnumbers humans six to one.

People first migrated to the 1.6-kilometre island of Aoshima 380 years ago and established a fishing village, bringing cats to deal with mice that plagued fishermen's boats.

The island, a 30-minute ferry ride off the coast of Ehime prefecture, was home to 900 people in 1945. Now, more than 120 cats swarm the island with fewer than 20 humans, all pensioners aged between 50 and 80.

According to Japan Daily Press, islanders said cat numbers began to shoot up about a decade ago. As the human population decreased, the cats' breeding went unchecked, locals said.

Tourists are flocking to a remote island in southern Japan, where an army of feral cats now outnumbers humans six to one.

Cats crowd around village nurse and Ozu city official Atsuko Ogata as she carries a bag of cat food on Aoshima Island in Ehime prefecture in southern Japan Japan's cat island

The cats of Aoshima are not too picky, surviving on the rice balls, energy bars or potatoes they get from tourists.

"There is a ton of cats here, then there was this sort of cat witch who came out to feed the cats which was quite fun," said 27-year-old Makiko Yamasaki.

"I'd want to come again."

Cats surround people as they get off a boat at the harbour on the island. © Reuters Cats surround people as they get off a boat at the harbour on the island.

The allure of cats is not surprising in a country that gave the world Hello Kitty, and cat cafes that have long been popular in Tokyo, catering to fans who can't keep the animals at home because of strict housing regulations that often forbid pets.

Residents of the tiny island say they do not mind the intrusion of gawking tourists, as long as they are left in peace.

"If people coming to the island find the cats healing, then I think it's a good thing," said 65-year-old Hidenori Kamimoto, who makes a living as a fisherman.

"I just hope that it's done in a way that doesn't become a burden on the people who live here."

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