Tashiro-Jima, Cat Island, 2½ Years After the 2011 Tsunami

Update, October 25, 2:49 p.m. Eastern: I don’t often have to update general posts, but unfortunately, there has been another strong earthquake in the area of Cat Island. It, along with other areas, is under a major tsunami warning. At least this quake was “only” a 7.1, not a 9 like the March 2011 quake. More information about how the island has been affected, if and when I can find out.

2:55 p.m.: OK, it’s not a major warning after all, but an expected wave of a little over 3 feet (1 meter) or less. The Japan Meteorological Agency says there will be sea level changes and strong currents, but no tsunami damage is expected.

Good news for Tashiro-Jima, though the strong shaking (there are aftershocks ongoing, too) must be terrifying for human and animal alike.

Of course, now one thinks of the Fukushima 1 plant… .

3:06 p.m. Nothing specific about Cat Island. Small waves of about a foot (30 cm) reported by the BBC. No leaks reported at the plant so far, but it’s only been a couple hours so far…in the middle of the night, too. I doubt many are sleeping, though.

3:31 p.m. The JMA has raised all tsunami warnings/advisories. Whew.

8:59 p.m. Update from Japan Times. Cat Island (Miyagi Prefecture) probably got the 1-foot (30 cm) waves.


Tashiro-Jima is a small island that sits off the coast of eastern Japan in Miyagi Prefecture. Per Wikipedia (with a few notes), cats and humans have been interacting there for centuries:

Your offering...it...pleases...me.    (Kazutaka Sawa)

Your offering…it…pleases…me. (Kazutaka Sawa)

There is a small cat shrine, known as Neko-jinja, in the middle of the island, roughly situated between the [only] two villages [on the island – these are Oodomari and Nitoda]. In the past, the islanders raised silkworms for silk, and cats were kept in order to keep the mouse population down (because mice are a natural predator of silkworms). Fixed-net fishing was popular on the island after the Edo Period and fishermen from other areas would come and stay on the island overnight. The cats would go to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. Over time, the fishermen developed a fondness for the cats and would observe the cats closely, interpreting their actions as predictions of the weather and fish patterns. One day, when the fishermen were collecting rocks to use with the fixed-nets, a stray rock fell and killed one of the cats. The fishermen, feeling sorry for the loss of the cat, buried it and enshrined it at this location on the island.

There are at least ten cat shrines in Miyagi Prefecture. There are also 51 stone monuments in the shape of cats, which is an unusually high number compared to the other prefectures. In particular, these shrines and monuments are concentrated in the southern area of the island, overlapping with the regions where silkworms were raised.

In the 1950s about a thousand people lived there. As decades passed, though, the population aged and many young people left. Today there are only about a hundred human residents there, most of them elderly.

The cats have thrived, because people still regard them as good luck. They outnumber people on Tashiro-Jima and have indeed brought the island some fortune.

All the island’s feline residents are cared for by vets and are fed by locals as well as by the tourists who visit by ferry, including this stop in early 2011 (there’s an ad at the end, but it’s all in Japanese and I ignored it – the video is so cute):

About a month after that was uploaded to YouTube, the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck Japan. Tashiro-Jima sits almost exactly two-thirds of the way between that quake’s epicenter and the devastation zone on the eastern coast of Kyushu:

The red dot is the quake's epicenter and the arrow points to Tashiro-Jima.  (Source)

The red dot is the quake’s epicenter and the arrow points to Tashiro-Jima. (Source)

The island was almost completely submerged. Incredibly, the people and many cats somehow made it through all right.

Today, the ferries again visit Cat Island, Tashiro-Jima, where the bonds between human and cat have withstood not only time but also the full fury of Earth and its mighty ocean.

Categories: Friday's Casual Cat

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