Adventures of a cat lady: Frolicking on Cat Island Tashirojima
If you’re both a cat lover and an avid traveller to Japan like me, you’d definitely have heard of Japan’s many cat islands. These cat islands are dubbed as such due to the population of free-roaming cats that outnumber the humans living on the islands, making them popular tourist destinations for ailurophiles.
BRB, bringing this cutie home from Tashirojima to Singapore. (GIF credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
While most of them like Aoshima (青島) and Sanagijima (佐柳島) are dotted along the many small islands in the Setouchi Region (瀬戸内) in West Japan, did you know that there’s also a cat island in the east? An island located off the coast of Ishinomaki City (石巻市 Ishinomaki-shi) in Miyagi Prefecture (宮城県 Miyagi-ken), Tashirojima (田代島) is a must-visit if you’re looking for a cat island around the Tohoku Region (東北地方). Come along with me—and my feline friends—as I recount my visit to this cat haven together with my colleagues Nazrul and Suzuki-san earlier in June 2022.
Getting to Tashirojima
I know it wouldn’t change anything, but this was me religiously checking the Weather app the night before to make sure there’s not a single chance of rain on my trip…
My journey to Tashirojima began at Sendai City (仙台市 Sendai-shi), Miyagi’s capital. While I was very excited to visit the cat island, I was most worried about the weather—the weather in June can be quite temperamental, and I wasn’t planning to travel 2 hours to a remote island just to see a bunch of wet cats which would most likely be hiding the entire time I’d be there… But thankfully the weather gods had heard my prayers, and it was a very sunny and clear day ahead!
I took a stroll along Jozen-dori—one of Sendai’s many city parks and greenery—before making my way to Tashirojima. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Nonetheless, even if the weather did turn out bad, there’s actually plenty of sightseeing to do within Sendai which is just 1.5 hours away by shinkansen or bullet train from Tokyo. Sendai also acts as a good base for those of us who are planning to make multiple day trips around the southern half of Tohoku such as to Matsushima (松島), Yamadera (山寺) in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県 Yamagata-ken), or even Aizu-Wakamatsu (会津若松) in Fukushima Prefecture (福島県 Fukushima-ken). You can find out more about Sendai and its attractions here.
Now, back to cat paradise.
Recognise any of the characters on this train wrapping? (Image credit: JR Times / Sue Lynn)
Tashirojima is roughly around 2.5 hours of commute time away from Sendai. From Sendai Station (仙台駅 Sendai-eki), I took the JR Senseki-Tohoku Line (仙石東北ライン Senseki-Tōhoku-rain) bound for Ishinomaki Station (石巻駅 Ishinomaki-eki). Fortunately, I managed to get on the Rapid (快速 Kaisoku) service which reduced my travelling time from around 90 minutes if I took the Local (普通 Futsū) service, to about an hour. Train rides to Ishinomaki only depart about 1–2 times per hour, so be sure to check on train timings (Google Maps is your best friend) in advance.
Ishinomaki is home to famous manga artist Ishinomori Shotaro (石ノ森章太郎), so you’ll find a lot of his characters’ motifs dotted all around the city, train station, and even trains! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Upon arriving at Ishinomaki Station, you can take the bus bound for Ajishima-mae Bus Stop (網地島前) in front of Ajishima Line Chuou Port (網地島ライン石巻中央発着所 Chūō Hacchakujo) for the ferry. The bus departs infrequently, so you can hop on a 5-minute taxi ride or simply take a leisurely stroll of about 15 minutes.
Genki Shokudo is a cosy canteen where I had the yummiest and creamiest Uni Pasta. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Since we had about an hour to spare before the next departing ferry, we took a walk towards the ferry and even stopped by for lunch at a food hall close by called Genki Shokudo (元気食堂), where I had a yummy plate of uni pasta, while my colleagues had a saba teishoku and yakisoba with a local twist (seafood-based). As a port city, Ishinomaki is abundant with seafood so be sure to indulge in that during your visit.
Clockwise: Ajishima Line Ferry’s timetable, ticketing machine, and ticket. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
After that scrumptious meal, we headed to the ferry terminal’s office/waiting area to purchase our return-trip tickets (¥2,500/adult). The ticketing machines are equipped with a couple of languages including English, so the whole process was pretty straightforward. Reservations aren’t allowed online and ferry rides from Ishinomaki to the island are infrequent, only running 3–4 times a day. So if you’re on a tight programme, be sure to check the ferry schedule in advance on Ajishima Line’s website.
En-route to Tashirojima via Ajishima Liner
We were fortunate to have almost the entire ferry to ourselves! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
It was now time to board the ferry, which meant I was now an hour closer to my dreams of visiting the cats at Tashirojima the Cat Island! I noticed that the ferry also made a stop at one more pier Kadowaki Port (門脇発着所 Kadowaki Hacchakujo) before making its way, and that the ferry also carried a vehicle or two that were probably bringing in daily necessities to the island. The ferry ride took around an hour, so we had ample time to enjoy the seabreeze and explore the cosy ferry, which was big enough to transport 220 passengers and seafarers.
The map of Tashirojima. (Image credit: 石巻市)
“Welcome to Tashirojima!”
You can’t tell but behind this mask is the biggest grin… (GIF credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
We’ve arrived at Cat Island! The ferry first makes a stop at the island’s northern port Odomari Port (大泊港 Ōdomari-kō) where you can choose to disembark, but doing so will result in a longer journey to the heart of the island where most of the cats congregate. Instead, sit just a while longer and disembark at Nitoda Port (仁斗田港 Nitoda-kō).
Why, hello there… (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
This little kitty (above) was one of the only two cats waiting at the port to tease visitors like me, as if (lazily) welcoming us to their home. Frankly speaking, I was expecting a swarm of cats to come my way upon arrival, but turns out most of them were at the rest house at the heart of Tashirojima... So off we went for a 20-minute trek towards the rest house Tashirojima “Nyanko Kyowakoku” Shimanoeki (田代島 島のえき).
My colleague Nazrul, petting and frolicking with his feline friends. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
But of course, what’s a cat island without stumbling upon some feline friends along the way? The difficulty of the trek was moderately easy, but there were some uphill slopes that required a bit more energy than expected. However I was determined—with every step I took, I knew that I was closer to petting another cat. Yes, like a cat, reward-based motivation works very well on me.
Tashirojima “Nyanko Kyowakoku” Shimanoeki
You know the cats are lovable when they’re equally as affectionate amongst themselves! (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Finally, I’ve arrived at my paradise—Shimanoeki—where dozens of cats were taking their afternoon naps. It was easy to feel overwhelmed if you’re not the biggest fan of cats—this is the first time I’ve ever seen so many cats chilling around at a single spot, but the amicable cats will surely win you over with their cuteness overload.
“How in the world can people not like cats?” (GIF credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
Fortunately, there weren’t many humans around during my visit, so I’m happy to report that I got to pet every single cat around the resthouse, which is also one of the island’s few eateries serving snacks that use local ingredients from Ishinomaki. The storekeeper also told us that the cats are friendly, so we were free to pick them up as we wished—unlike the more stringent rules of a cat cafe.
It may not look like it, but the love’s mutual, I swear… (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Cat lovers like me will find themselves easily spending hours on this island. Given the size and how remote the island was, I could see Tashirojima as a mini island retreat for me to escape from life’s mundanity. Thus, if you have the chance, do consider staying at some of the lodges available such as the unique Manga Ai-Land (マンガアイランド).
The Cat Shrine. (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
I played with the cats wishing I had more time to spare—I’ve yet to even check out the souvenir corner inside the resthouse—but I decided to check out the Cat Shrine which was just a 5-minute walk away. Just follow the (only) path up north towards Odomari Port and you should be able to spot it. If you’re lucky, you will be escorted by a few of our furry friends—definitely not your typical tour guide but who doesn’t like to be followed by cats?!
Like a screen-capture straight out of the world's favourite cat-adventure game, "Stray". (Image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn)
With that, my crossing to Cat Island came to an end. In total, we spent a good 1.5 hours with the cats and trekking to the rest house and cat shrine, but it was time to head back to Nitoda Port where our Ishinomaki-bound ferry awaited us. I hope that my recount has helped you imagine this lovely island a little bit better, and should you have the chance to visit, please say hi to my furry friends for me!
Address: 5-3 Okaido-minami, Ishinomaki, Miyagi, 986-0856
Nearest station: JR Ishinomaki Station (JR石巻駅)
Nearest port: Nitoda Port (仁斗田港) / Odomari Port (大泊港)
Header image credit: JR East / Sue Lynn