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Japan island honours cats as guardians

TASHIROJIMA (AP) – On a small island off Japan’s northeastern coast, visitors make offerings at a shrine for unlikely local guardians: cats.

The ‘Neko Jinja’, or Cat Shrine, mythologises cats as guardian of Tashirojima, where cats outnumber humans.

Legend said the island used to be famous for sericulture and farmers would keep cats because they would chase away rats, protecting the silkworm cocoons from the rodents.

Fishermen on the island have also traditionally believed that cats bring good luck, including large hauls of fish.

Another legend said fishermen used to watch the cats’ behaviour for tips on the coming weather before heading to sea.

A tourist takes a photograph of cats gathered at a restaurant at Nitoda Port on Tashirojima island in Ishinomaki, northeast of Japan. PHOTO: AP
A cat crouches by a cat-themed sign that reads, ‘Welcome to Tashirojima island’, near Odomari Port. PHOTO: AP

The islanders have long coexisted with the cats. One day, however, a fisherman accidentally injured a cat while working. Feeling sorry for the injury, the islanders built the shrine for cats.

Tashirojima is part of the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region, which became well known after a tsunami devastated the area following a massive magnitude nine earthquake on March 11, 2011.

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima, along with about 50 humans, according to the city’s website.

Along a paved road running about two kilometres between the island’s two ports, cats groom themselves and mingle with other cats.

There are a few cafes and inns, but no car rental shops, gas stations or public transportation. Tourists are expected to walk up and down the island’s hills while visiting.

Most of the cats are used to tourists, who can be seen petting the friendly animals throughout the island.