Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Ainoshima – A Guide to Kyūshū’s Most Famous Cat Island

Ainoshima Island (相島) is a small heart-shaped island around 7.5 km off the coast of Shingū Town (新宮町) north of Fukuoka City. The island that used to host up to 500 Korean emissaries is now one of the world’s most famous cat spots. So if you are a cat lover, how about a trip to Ainoshima when you visit northern Kyūshū on your next Japan trip?

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

Since CNN broadcasted the cats on Ainoshima to the world, the island has been receiving visitors around the globe. Currently, there are more than 230 cats on Aionoshima Island. With only around 280 human residents, the cat population is enormous!

How to Get to Ainoshima

The ferries bound for Ainoshima depart from the Shingū Port (新宮港) in Shingū Town. The trip will take around 20 minutes.

Assuming you are coming from Hakata Station (博多駅), there are a few ways that you can get to Shingū Port.

Important: There are no convenience stores around Shingū Port.

How to Get to Shingū Port

  • From Hakata Station, take Nishitetsu’s trains to Nishitetsu-Shingū Station (西鉄新宮駅). Then change for the Community Bus’s Ai-land Line’s (コミュニティバス相ランド線) second route and get off at Ainoshima Tosenba (相島渡船場)
    • The train trip takes around 40 minutes and requires one transfer
    • The bus trip takes around 15 minutes
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on weekdays
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Saturdays
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Sundays and public holidays
  • From Hakata Station, take a JR train to JR Fukkō Daimae Station (福工大前駅). Then change for the Community Bus’s Ai-land Line’s (コミュニティバス相ランド線) first route and get off at Ainoshima Tosenba (相島渡船場)
    • The train trip takes around 20 minutes and requires one transfer
    • The bus trip takes around 10 minutes
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus service
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Saturdays
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Sundays and public holidays
  • From Hakata Station, take a JR train to JR Shingū-chuō Station (新宮中央駅). Then change for the Community Bus’s Ai-land Line’s (コミュニティバス相ランド線) first route and get off at Ainoshima Tosenba (相島渡船場)
    • The train trip takes around 25 minutes and requires one transfer
    • The bus trip takes around 35 minutes
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus service
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Saturdays
    • HERE is the timetable for the bus services on Sundays and public holidays

For the timetable above, “夏季” is for March to October, and “冬季” is for November to February.

The bus fare is 100 yen.

The Ferry Fare and Timetable

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A one-way trip from Shingū Port to Aionoshima is as below.

  • 480 yen for adults
  • 240 yen for elementary school students and below
  • Free for infants less than one-year-old

For the ferry’s timetable, please refer to the official website HERE.

  • The first table is for March to October. The second table is for November to February
  • The first column is the departure time from Ainoshima Island. The second column is the departure time from Shingū Port

Tip: Head to the second floor of the ferry for a better view after you are aboard.

Important:
☛ Services may be canceled due to bad weather.
☛ If the ferry has reached its capacity, you will have to take the next service. This sometimes happens on weekends and public holidays.

About the Cats on Ainoshima

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The cats on Ainoshima are extremely used to humans to the point that some might even approach you and rub themselves against you!

Originally, the Ainoshia’s residents introduced cats to the island to protect their fishing gear and crops from mice. Without many natural enemies and being fed well, the number of cats on Ainoshima multiplied.

Tip: It is best not to visit Ainoshima on a hot day because the cats will hide in the shade.

We also want to note here that sterilization surgery was performed on the cats on Ainoshima in 2021. The island has been advertised as a cat’s paradise globally. But there are way too many cats on the island than what the carers can take care of. This has resulted in some cats being malnourished and/or sick. Thus, the hard decision was made by Ainoshima’s residents.

Things to Watch out for on Ainoshima

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  • Please don’t feed the cats for their health
  • Don’t try to catch them and bring them somewhere else. They have their territory

It is probably best to only play with the cats that approach you at their own will. For those who want their own space, let’s leave them alone and take photos of them from a distance. This is especially important if you see a cat family. Trying to touch the little kitten will result in an attack from the mother cat.

Important: Although there are restaurants on Ainoshima Island, the main dishes on the set menus are either sashimi or meat dishes. Bring your food if you are strict with your vegetarian diet because the noodle soup broth also contains seafood extract.

Cycling around Ainoshima Island

Ainoshima has a circumference of around 6 km. The best way to enjoy what the island has to offer is probably hiking through the 5.4 km promenade for your chance to meet the wild animals (other than cats) and historical heritage.

As it will take around 2 to 3 hours to stroll through the promenade, how about renting a bicycle to reduce travel time between the small attractions on Ainoshima Island?

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

The service is available between 10 am to 5 pm (4:30 pm from November to February). The cost is 500 yen for 2 hours for standard bikes and 1,000 yen for 2 hours for electric-assisted bikes.

For more information, please refer to the official website HERE and scroll down to the English section.

Ainoshima Information Center (相島観光案内所)

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Ainoshima’s tourist center is called ‘Shima no Eki Ainoshima’ (島の駅あいのしま). Not only can you source tourist information such as Ainoshima’s map, but it is also where you can rent a bicycle from.

Furthermore, the Shimano Eki is loaded with various cat-themed souvenirs such as biscuits and cups.

Wakamiya Shrine (若宮神社)

Close to the ferry terminal, there is a shrine called Wakamiya Shrine. On the precinct, there is a sacred tree called ‘Umino Shiba’ (産の柴). An interesting custom is that the locals use the tree’s leaves as a charm for safe delivery.

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

Dragon Lord Rock (龍王石)

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At the south end of Ainoshima, a Dragon Lord Rock is enshrined. The locals treat the rock as an object of worship for the God of Water named Hachidai Ryūō (八大龍王).

With most islanders working as fishermen, the rock has been revered. A Ryūō Festival is held on the 15th of November to pray for a good fish catch for the following year.

Even if you don’t believe in the myth of a dragon lord, we would still recommend you pay the rock a visit for the magnificent ocean view from where the rock is. Also, while it is hard to tell the size of the rock from a photo, with a height of 216 cm, it is taller than most of us!

Tōmi Guardhouse Ruins (遠見番所跡)

After the Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱) in 1638, Japan entered an era of national isolation. To monitor the arrival of foreign ships, five guardhouses were established in Fukuoka Prefecture, and one of them is on Ainoshima.

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

The guardhouse was built on high ground at an elevation of 77 meters. This was so the guards could see as furthest as possible.

Back then, two guards and three foot soilers were stationed at the guardhouse each day. Fukuoka Domain’s ship would be dispatched if a foreign ship was discovered to chase the unwelcomed ship away.

Nowadays, you can still see the stonewalls of the guardhouse. Next to it, a white lighthouse replaces the guardhouse.

Taikō Shioi’s Stones (太閤潮井の石)

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Although Toyotomi Hideyoshi united Japan, he wasn’t satisfied. So in 1592 and 1597, he sent troops to Korea, hoping to expand the territory of Japan.

On the way to Nagoya Castle (名護屋城) in Saga Prefecture, he stopped by Ainoshima. It is said that Hideyoshi piled thousands of stones and prayed to the Thousand-arms Kannon statue for victory and safe sailing.

At where Hideyoshi made the prayer, a shrine (Iwamiyamiya Shrine, 岩宮神社) was erected.

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

Ana Kannon (穴観音)

Close to Taikō Shioi’s Stones, there is a cave underneath a cliff that enshrines a Kannon Bodhisattva. The cavern used to be accessible. However, after a recent earthquake, it was determined to be too dangerous to go down the small path, and entry is currently forbidden for your safety.

Ⓒ 一般社団法人新宮町おもてなし協会

Ainoshima Stone Tumuli (相島積石塚群)

The tumuli in the southeast of Ainoshima were determined to be the graveyard between the 4th to the 7th century. A total of 254 tombs were discovered during research. Unlike other ancient tombs in Japan that cover the stone chamber with soil, the entire tomb is made of stones on Ainoshima.

Due to its uniqueness, the Tumuli was determined to be a National Historic Site in 2001.

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Hanagurise Rock (鼻栗瀬)

Around 300 meters from Ainoshima’s southeast coast, there is a gigantic basalt. The sea cave with a height of 200 meters looks similar to a monocle, which is why the locals called it Megane Rock (めがね岩).

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Discover Other Cat Islands in Japan

Ainoshima Island isn’t the only island in Japan known as cat island. 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!

Ferry-to-Yu-Island-Kamiamakusa-Kumamoto-Japan
Click the photo to find out more about cat islands in Japan!

The Rabbit Island in Japan

Cherry-Blossoms-on-Okunoshima-Takehara-Hiroshima-Japan
Click the photo to find out more about 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!

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