You might have heard of cat cafes, but did you know there are cat islands? In Japan, some small islands are nicknamed cat islands by the locals because there are more cats than humans living on the island. Due to the cat boom from the early 2000s, many of these islands have become popular tourist destinations among cat lovers globally.
Two of these islands are Aino Island (or Ainoshima (藍島) in Japanese) and Uma Island (馬島) in Kitakyūshū City in Fukuoka Prefecture. Compared to Ainoshima Island (相島) in Shingū Town (新宮町) north of Fukuoka City, it is less known to foreign tourists, but getting to Aino Island is a lot easier.
Reading till here, you might have noticed that the two islands we mentioned share the same pronunciation in Japanese. It can be confusing, especially when you ask for directions in Fukuoka, so identifying the island by Japanese characters may be a better idea. After all, their names look very different when you write them out (藍島 vs. 相島).
How to Get to Aino Island
Ferries bound for Aino Island depart from Okura Port (小倉港), which is just a 7-minute walk from JR Okura Station’s (小倉駅) north exit.
If you are based in Hakata (博多), JR Okura Station is just around a 15-minute train ride away by bullet train. You can also take the limited express Sonic (ソニック) from JR Hakata Station, which will take around 45 minutes to get to Okura.
HERE is the timetable for the ferry service. You can translate it with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
The cost of the ferry is as below:
- 600 yen for adults
- 300 yen for children
If you also want to visit Uma Island, the cost is 180 yen for adults (90 yen for children) to go between Uma Island and Aino Island.
☛ If too many people want to board the ferry, the office will give out number plates. If that is the case, you won’t be able to board the ferry without the number plate.
☛ There is only a small shop and a few vending machines on Aino Island. There are no restaurants on the island.
The boat trip from Okura Port via Umashima (馬島) will take around 40 minutes.
☛ Arrive at Okura Port at least 15 minutes before departure to get a better seat on the upper deck.
☛ Remember to take a photo of the island’s map from the ferry terminal’s ticket office. Although in Japanese, the map has a photo next to all the attractions on Aino Island.
The Most Efficient Way to Visit Aino Island and Uma Island
If you want visit both Aino Island and Uma Island (馬島), below is the most efficient way to travel between the two islands from Okura.
- Board the 1st ferry service to Aino Island.
- Purchase a one way ticket for Okura to Aino Island at Okura Port.
- From Aino Island, board the 2nd ferry service departing for Uma Island/Okura.
- Purchase a one-way Aino Island to Uma Island ticket on the ferry.
- From Uma Island, board the 3rd ferry service departing for Okura.
- Purchase a one-way Uma Island to Okura ticket on the ferry.
The Best Time to Visit Aino Island
To meet as many cats as possible, avoid summer and winter because summer is too hot for the cats to lie under the sun, and winter is too cold to come out.
With that being said, you might be able to spot some Indo-Pacific finless porpoises (small dolphins) around Aino Island’s coast from June to August.
Aino Island’s Profile
Aino Island has a circumference of around 13 km. Currently, around 260 people live on the island, most of whom are fishermen. Living peacefully with the humans are around 50 cats, which have attracted many tourists to this otherwise quiet island.
To Japanese fishers, cats are treated nicely because they catch mice that make holes in their fishing boats and fishing net. Some also believe that cats beckon good fish catch.
Nowadays, on top of the islanders, volunteers visit Aino Island around twice a week to take care of them.
When you get to Aino Island, many cats now have one of their ears cut. Because the shape looks like a cherry blossom’s petal, these cats are referred to as ‘Sakura-neko’ (さくらねこ).
The cut-ear is the indicator that the cat has been desexed. Neutering surgery was necessary to control the number of cats on Aino Island. Because of the amount of food the cats were getting from the tourists in the early 2010s, the cat population grew out of control to around 300. To maintain the ecological balance, the hard decision was made in 2014.
Tip: The dried wakame seaweed is one of the best local specialties in Ainoshima.
Where to Find and Feed the Cats on Aino Island
What welcomes you to Aino Island is probably the meowing of the adorable cats. The cats on Aino Island are all well-fed and friendly. With them gathering around Ainoshima Port (藍島港), many tourists will only realize that 30 minutes or even an hour has passed after they had their fill of the cats’ cuteness!
Tip: The only public toilet is at the back of the waiting room at Aninoshima Port. Use it before you wander off!
From Ainoshima Port to Aino Island’s northmost part will take around 40 minutes. But, most cats only stay around the area from the port to Ainoshima Elementary School (北九州市立藍島小学校). So if you are only interested in the cats, there will be no need to proceed further north beyond the school.
A good landmark that reminds you to start heading back south is the Ainoshima Tunnel (藍島トンネル). Beyond this tunnel, the number of cats you will encounter will likely decrease sharply. But, if you are interested in historical landmarks, the Ainoshima Guardhouse Flag Stand (藍島遠見番所旗柱台) is just around a 10-minute walk from the tunnel (head left when you get to the tunnel instead of passing through it).
If you want to feed the cats, please head to the designated areas that have a poster that says, “Please feed here, ここで餌をあげてください”. Many cats linger in these places. So even if you don’t have cat feed on you, once you stand in front of the poster, they will most likely pop out one after another (´▽｀*).
☛ Put the cat food in a container where possible. If there is no container, don’t give the cats all your feed in one go so the food doesn’t go wasted.
☛ Please clean up the scene after you feed the cats. Leaving the unfinished feed is prohibited.
Ainoshima Guardhouse Flag Pillar (藍島遠見番所旗柱台)
The flag pillar was built in 1721 as the base for communication flags.
Back then, when Japan was in national isolation, guardhouses were built on small islands off the coast of Kyūshū to watch for any foreign ships. Once such ships are sighted, flags would be raised to notify the Okura Domain on the mainland for troops to be sent out to expel the unwelcoming visitors.
Senjōjiki Coast (千畳敷海岸)
If you enjoy trekking, we recommend you head to the Senjōjiki Coast at Aino Island’s north. A one-way trip will take around 20 – 30 minutes.
Although it is just an ordinary coast during the full tide, the bedrock will be exposed when the tide retreats. With crystal clear water and the right lighting, the view is just like an oil painting by one of the masters in the past!
Following the bedrock, walking to Kai Island (貝島), north of Aino Island, is possible. While it is safe to walk on the bedrock, be careful so you don’t slip.
Uma Island (馬島)
From Okura Port, the ferry will first stop at Uma Island. The small island with a circumference of 2.6 km is a hidden gem in all the cat islands in Japan. At the same time, it is the smallest island in Fukuoka Prefecture, with the least population (less than 30 people).
The cats on Uma Island usually gather together in the residential area. So don’t feel disappointed if you don’t see any of them at the port. Note: the cats on Uma Island were desexed in 2014 as well.
Besides the cats, Uma Island’s specialty is tree onion (わけぎ), which looks similar to the shallot. If you take a closer look at the tree onion fields, it seems like the plants are growing out of sand instead of soil!
Important: There is only one vending machine on Uma Island, which may be removed soon due to the decrease in population.
Ōyamazumi Shrine (大山祇神社)
The most special thing we found on Uma Island is in the precinct of Ōyamazumi Shrine. Instead of the usual lion dogs (Komainu, 狛犬), a shell that was dropped on Japan during World War Two is guarding the worship hall.
Moreover, from mid-April to early May, the wisteria flowers will decorate the shrine gorgeously.
Discover Other Cat Islands in Japan
Aino Island and Uma Island aren’t the only two islands in Japan known as cat islands. Such kind of islands is actually scattered across the country.
To find out about other cat islands in Japan, refer to our article on the Top 10 Cat Islands in Japan!
The Rabbit Island in Japan
In addition to all the cat islands, Japan also has a rabbit island!
If you are interested, find out more information about this island with our article on Ōkunoshima, filled with a massive rabbit population!