Sanagi Island (佐柳島) in Kagawa Prefecture‘s Nakatado District (仲多度郡) was originally known for the Daitengū Shrine. The long‐nosed goblin enshrined here is famous for his ability to help pilgrims retrieve their lost items. However, more recently, Sanagi Island has been known as a cat island, where cats jump between the stones on the embankments along the coastline!
With a circumference of only 4 km, Sanagi Island is smaller than the imperial palace in Tokyo. Currently, it only has less than 70 human residents. Substituting a local specialty as a selling point, what has been attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists is its feline inhabitants that outnumber the human residents.
Why are there so many cats? If you watch the interactions between the residents and the cats, you will notice that cats are cherished on Sanagi Island. Even if the cats picked up a few fish that was just caught in the morning, no one would get mad at them.
How to Get to Sanagi Island
As there is no bridge connecting the island with Japan’s mainland, you have to take a ferry from Tadotsu Port (多度津港).
If you plan to drive there, you can park your car beside the breakwater, free of charge.
If you are taking trains, transfer at JR Okayama Station (岡山駅) for JR Tadotsu Station (多度津駅). You can also fly domestically to Takamatsu Airport and take a shuttle bus to JR Takamatsu Station (高松駅) to get to JR Tadotsu Station.
Regarding the ferry ticket, purchase it from the small hut on the way to the pier. Don’t worry if it is closed when you get there, staff will be there before the ferry’s departure time. The ferry company still wants to be paid for their service (´▽｀*).
Important: Please note from JR Tadotsu Station to the ferry terminal, it is around a 20-minute walk.
The Two Ferry Terminals on Sanagi Island
Sanagi Island consists of two villages, one in the north and the other in the south. Thus, there are two ferry terminals, Honura Port (本浦港) and Nagasaki Port (長崎港). A one-way trip to the other port will take around a 30-minute walk.
For sightseeing purposes, it is more recommended to get off at the Honura Port (cheaper as well).
Please note only four ferry services are departing from and arriving at Tadotsu Port. All services are operating by Tadochi Kisen (たどつ汽船). The boat trip will take around an hour. Refer to the timetable HERE to plan. The cost is as below (also in the timetable link).
- From Tadotsu Port to Sanagi Island’s Honura Port
- 690 yen for adults
- 345 yen for children
- From Tadotsu Port to Sanagi Island’s Nagasaki Port
- 790 yen for adults
- 395 yen for children
Things to Watch out for on Sanagi Island
- Don’t give the cats too much food in one go. Let them finish what is given before giving them more to keep the environment clean
- Watch for ongoing traffic when you take photos of the cats on the road
- Please don’t trespass into private properties
- Bring your garbage back with you
What to Bring to Sanagi Island
- Although curry rice is served in Neko no Shima Hostel’s cafe, they only have 10 serves per day (plus it isn’t vegetarian). So bring your lunch/snacks
- While there are three convenience stores on the island, bring enough drinks/water with you in case they are closed. There are no vending machines on Sanagi Island
- Enough cat food
- If you forgot about it, you might be able to get some from Neko no Shima Hostel on the island
- Insect repellent
Tip: You can also have an early lunch around Tadotsu Port.
The Cats Won’t Jump between the Disconnected Embankment?
Apparently, the cats on Sanagi Island aren’t as energetic as we thought. Most of them won’t be bothered to jump over to the other side of the embankment when it is disconnected. According to the islanders, the cats will only jump to the other side if there are some incentives.
So, what you need to do is, if you see a cat close to the disconnecting point of the embankment, give it a bit of food.
As soon as it finishes the feed, direct the cat’s attention to the other side of the embankment by shaking the cat food’s bag. Of course, put some cat food on that side of the embankment before you do so.
It will follow you around when the cat realizes that you have the cat feed. Thus, it will get much easier to get a photo of the cat “flying” above the disconnected point of the embankment.
On the other hand, if the cat in front of you just won’t jump, it will be easier to find another cat and try the strategy again. After all, on Sanagi Island, it is harder to find a spot without a feline.
Tip: The best place to see the cats jumping across the disconnected points of the embankment is close to the Honura Port at the south end of Sanagi Island. This is where many cats are gathered, and the distance between the embankment is just about right. Plus, you will get the Seto Inland Sea as a backdrop!
How Long to Spend on Sanagi Island
If you want to explore the entire island, allocating 2 – 3 hours would be better.
For those who only want to play with the cats, a 30 minutes session might be enough for some, while others would like to spend around an hour.
Around Honura Port
Honura Port is where many of Sanagi Island’s cats linger. Because of a large cat colony, you will have a harder time finding a place without a cat rather than finding a cat to play with.
If you sit on a bench, they might even surprise you by coming up to your laps!
Before you wander off to the rest of the island, remember to utilize the public toilets close to the ferry terminal.
The Yamaji Shop (山路商店) is the only convenience store in the Honura village. The official business hours are from 8 am to 6 pm (lunch break from 12 pm to 1 pm). But, they might finish early or close for the day without notice. So, it is better to bring your own drinks/food to Sanagi Island.
Daitengu Shrine (大天狗神社)
If you have been to Mt. Kurama (鞍馬山) in Kyoto, you must have seen the red-faced long-nosed goblins, known as Tengu.
South of the Honura Port, a shrine on the top of a small hill enshrines the Tengu.
After you walk through the torii gate, you will see a Taiko drum. In the past, the islanders hit the drum at the bottom of the 367 staircases to notify the Tengu of their visit.
While it will be tiring to climb up to the shrine, you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the Seto Inland Sea. And remember to make a prayer to the Daitengu if you have lost something valuable.
Tip: Remember to check out the Tengu on the stone wall at the side of a small passageway to the shrine’s west. There is even a leaf fan on his left hand!
Isn’t Tengu only Living in the Mountain?
For those who know Japanese mythology, having a tengu shrine on a small island on the sea is weird because the tengu is commonly known as a legendary creature living in the mountains.
The reason why Sanagi Island has a tengu shrine is thought to be connected to who the tengu might be. One theory says tengu is actually the Shugendō (修験道) practitioners who were trained in deep mountains. Enduring various hard training in the mountains, their appearance was usually quite skinny, making travelers mistake them for immortal creatures that have the human appearance but aren’t human.
For more information about the Shugendō, please refer to our article on Mt. Yoshino.
On Sanagi Island, the theory says the tengus were pirates sailing in the Seto Inland Sea in the good old days. Back then, the sea was considered sacred ground governed by God and “guarded” by pirates. So, to enter the holy ground, money is paid as an honorarium to God. The idea is similar to paying a toll. Thus from the eyes of commoners back then, the pirates were someone who also bore the human appearance but weren’t quite human (i.e. tengu).
Neko no Shima Hostel (ネコノシマホステル)
Before 2015, there was no accommodation facility on Sanagi Island. But together with more and more tourists visiting the island for the cats, the abandoned elementary school was transformed into a hostel. Not only is it the only place for you to stay overnight in, but it is also the only facility that serves desserts and light meals (not vegetarian).
Originally a school, things such as anatomy, human models, and laboratory equipment are used as interior decorations, which might give you a heart attack at night if you book the science classroom…
If you are interested, please refer to their website HERE and translate it to English by Google Chrome’s translation function.
Important: Don’t forget to bring a pair of slippers if you stay overnight in the hostel. It will be especially handy during your shower session.
Around Nagahama Port
While the number of cats around Nagahama Port isn’t as many as the Honura Port, they still outnumber the tourists.
If you head a bit north of the ferry terminal, you might find more cats hanging around the embankment.
Nagasaki village has two convenience stores. Yamaguchi Shop (山口商店) is close to Nagasaki Port. Its business hours are from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Another convenience store is Yuki Shop (柚木商店) which has the same business hours as Yamaguchi Shop. The same as Yamaji Shop, don’t be surprised if you find them to be closed when you get there.
Buried Tomb (埋め墓)
Around a 10-minute walk from Nagasaki Port (20-minute from the Honura Port), there is a rather unique graveyard next to the breakwater. Not only does it look more like a stone quarry, but the tomb custom is also different from other places in Japan.
Known as Ryōbosei (両墓制), the double grave system creates two tombs for a person, one to bury his remains (Umebaka, 埋め墓) and the other for memorial services (Mairibaka, 詣り墓). Apparently, it is to keep the space for the dead separated from the living space of those alive.
The piled-up pebbles around the tombstones characterize the buried tomb in Nagasaki Village (長崎集落). The distinctive custom is currently Kagawa Prefecture’s Tangible Folk Cultural Property.
Discover Other Cat Islands in Japan
Sanagi 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!
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!