In Australia, we love our cats. But of all the nations, Japan definitely has the most fanatic feline fans. From its kitty cartoon characters to whole islands dedicated to cats, the nation is steeped in cat culture. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that make this nation the ultimate destination for die-hard cat lovers.
While an island of stray dogs is likely to be visited by animal control, an island covered in cats gets tons of tourists in Japan. The furry residents’ ability to live in general harmony with the human population means that Japan is filled with places that have earned the nickname ‘Nekojima’, or ‘Cat Island’.
There are 11 islands in total, and Aoshima is one of the most popular. Here, you’ll witness more than a hundred cats prowling the island, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in the quiet fishing village. There are only around 15 human residents, who take it upon themselves to feed and care for their feline friends.
Recently gaining popularity online, the tiny island has seen a steep rise in tourists. But you won’t find anything for tourists here – there are no hotels, restaurants or even vending machines in sight. This doesn’t seem to deter extreme cat lovers though, who just want to get up close to the island’s feline clan.
Coffee and Cats
If the thought of being in a room full of cute fur balls makes you happy, then a visit to one of Japan’s famous cat cafés is a must. The nation is home to over 150 of them, with Tokyo alone boasting over 60.
Cat Café Calico in Shinjuku is the largest in Tokyo, housing over 50 cats in its two-story facility. Then there’s Neko JaLaLa, which is home to exotic breeds such as Abyssinians and Main Coons. Head over to Cat Café Nyanny and you’ll find a Japanese home that’s been turned into a cat mansion, with plenty of room to relax. Also worth a visit is Cat Café Cateriam in trendy Shimokitazawa – its cats have their own DVDs, memorabilia and even Twitter accounts!
Cat Lying on a Bean Bag in a Cat Cafe
If you’ve ever visited a Japanese restaurant or shop, you’ve probably noticed a little cat figurine perched quietly by the cash register. This Fortune Cat, or Maneki Neko, is a lucky charm that’s very popular in Japanese and Chinese cultures.
The Fortune Cat has its paw raised as if waving in good luck for its owners. If the left paw is up, it attracts customers, while the right paw invites good fortune and money. Sometimes you’ll even see both paws raised – double the luck!
Maneki Neko sitting next to a cash register of a shop in Japan.
In Japan, cats are deeply ingrained in popular culture – take a stroll down any Tokyo lane and you’ll see cat faces plastered everywhere. Felines have even evolved into beloved cartoon characters.
Here are three famous cat characters you may just recognise.
Hello Kitty is a character produced by the Japanese company Sanria, and is a staple of “kawaii” culture. But you may be surprised to learn that Hello Kitty isn’t actually meant to be a cat, but a little girl from London. She even has a pet cat of her own called Charmmy Kitty, just to make things more confusing.
Doraemon is character in an anime series of the same name. He’s a fun-loving robotic cat that travels back in time from the 22nd century to help a little boy called Nobita. In 2008, Japan’s Foreign Ministry appointed Doraemon the country’s “anime ambassador”.
Krocchi the Street Cat
Krocchi the Street Cat is a scrappy stray cat character who’s seen a lot in his time. He’s a new type of hero for children, teaching them to have a strong heart, no matter how bad things get.
Cat islands, cafes and characters are just the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to Japan’s fanatic cat culture, there are simply too many stories to tell in one article. The best way to discover this feline-obsessed world is to go there yourself.