East of Kumamoto City, in the middle of the Ariake Sea (有明海), Yushima (湯島) is a small island with a circumference of 4 km. Although the island doesn’t even have a convenience store, it has become a tourist spot because of its large feline population!
If your dream is to be surrounded by heaps of cats or even to have a few of them resting on your lap, Yu Island might just be the place where that dream will come true! After all, out of the 500 residents of Yushima, 200 are cats!
While everything seemed so peaceful on the island, at the beginning of the Edo period, it was once where the plotting of the Shimabara Rebellion (島原の乱) took place.
How to Get to Yu Island
The ferries depart for Yu Island from Ebito Port (江樋戸港). Because there are no train stations close to the port, you will have to take the bus, Amakusa-gō (天草号) from either JR Uto Station (宇土駅), JR Ōda Station (網田駅) or JR Kumamoto Station (熊本駅) and get off at Sun Pearl stop (さんぱーる). It will take around 90 minutes for this option.
HERE is the timetable for Amakusa-gō. If you plan to board the bus from JR Ōda Station, the bus stop is called Ōda Eki-Mae (網田駅前). From the Sun Pearl stop, it is another 10-minute walk to Ebito Port.
☛ There are quite a few bus stops at JR Kumamoto Station. So it might be a better idea to get off at JR Uto Station because there is only one bus stop at its east exit (the bus stop is Uto Eki Higashiguchi (宇土駅東口)).
☛ Sit on the right side of the bus for the magnificent ocean view on the way to Ebito Port.
If you plan to drive, there are plenty of parking spaces in the car park close to the Ebito Port.
Ferry from Ebito Port to Yu Island
From Ebito Port, it will take another 30 minutes before you arrive at Yu Island.
The ferry fare for junior high school students and above is 600 yen. Elementary school students are charged 300 yen for the ferry trip. If you are traveling with more than one child/toddler from one year old, the first child will be free, and from the second child onward, the ferry fare is the same as elementary school students.
For the ferry’s timetable, please refer to the table above the map on the official website HERE. The first column is the departure time from Yu Island. For services depart from Ebito Port, refer to the second column.
☛ We recommend taking one of the first three ferry services to fully enjoy Yu Island.
☛ Head to the upper deck for a better view during the boat trip.
☛ Cover your ears once the ferry goes past Yu Island’s breakwater. You will be surprised by how loud the sound of the horn is going to be!
☛ Remember to take preventative measures for travel sickness.
☛ If you find a cat on the ferry, bring it to the staff. It is most likely from Yu Island that wanted to explore the world!
About the Cats on Yu Island
Soon after you get off the ferry, you will be greeted by a cat god stone statue (Yushima Myōjinzō, 湯島猫神像), a big indication of how much love the locals have for cats. The laid-back island is like a residence for an enormous family, and those cats that walk freely across Yushima are indispensable family members.
Since ancient times, the fishermen in Japan believed cats could beckon big fish catches. So cats are cherished in many fishing ports across the country. This is one of the reasons that Yu Island is a cat’s utopia!
Although many live outdoors freely, having the villagers take care of each of them, the locals categorize the cats on Yu Island as non-stray.
Because there aren’t many cars on the island and thus no traffic lights, you will find many cats would just lie in the middle of the road. Even when a car is driving toward them, they won’t be bothered to walk away at all. It is up to the driver to move the cat to the side of the road so the car can proceed further (´▽｀*).
☛ If you see an orange cat resting on a stone bench close to the cat god stone, it is likely the cat called Aka-kun (アカくん). He is the cat that will most likely hop onto your lap if you sit on the bench.
☛ Cat feed (Neko no Esa, 猫の餌) can be purchased from the shop close to the port. Next to the cat god statue, some might be placed inside a white box for you to buy.
The Cute Cat Signs on Yu Island
A unique thing about Yu Island is the orange Cat Spot Sign (猫スポット).
When you get there, there might be a few moments where you wonder where the cats are. But as soon as that thought pops into your head, a feline might just happen to get into your sight!
Give them a few minutes if there are no cats when you arrive at one of the cat spot signs. At least one of them will soon show up for some affection!
Yu Island and Shimabara Rebellion
Close to the cat god statue, you might see a painting of a couple of guys sitting around a bonfire, appearing to be discussing something. The painting depicts an important part of the history of Yu Island.
Back at the beginning of the Edo period, harsh annual tributes were collected from the people of the Shimabara Domain (島原藩). For those who couldn’t afford annual tributes, severe penalties applied. On top of the tributes, Shimabara Domain also forbade its citizens to be Christian. Those who insisted on staying Christian were also either penalized or executed with capital sentences.
The situation had led to an outbreak of anger among the Christians, farmers, and the samurais without a lord/master. The leader emerged from the group was Amakusa Shirō (天草四郎), who was 16 years of age at the time.
Because Yu Island was their secret base where they planned the uprise, the island is also known as “Meeting Island (Dangōjima, 談合島).
Suwa Shrine (諏訪神社) and Mine Park (峯公園)
On the way to Mine Park at the top of the island and at an altitude of 104 meters, you will walk past Suwa Shrine.
What is famous about this shrine is an unimpressive stone water container (鍛冶水盤) on its precinct. Apparently, it was used when Amakusa Shirō and the repellents were making weapons.
In autumn, when the foliage of the 300-years-old ginkgo tree turns golden, it is another thing that will catch your attention!
The promenade beyond the shrine consists of some steep slopes. What is waiting at the top of the hill after around a 20-minute hike is an observation deck, from where you will get a panoramic view of Yu Island.
Apparently, it is where Amakusa Shirō and his fellow discussed details about their uprising in late 1637.
If you come between December and February, you might see the villagers harvesting Yu Island’s specialty, Yushima Raddish (湯島大根).
Yushima Lighthouse (湯島灯台)
You would have seen the white lighthouse from the observation deck at Yu Island’s west is called Yushima Lighthouse. It was completed in 1916.
It is another spot on Yu Island that cat lovers would want to visit. At the lower part of the lighthouse, illustrations of cats are painted. If you check them out in a clockwise direction, you will soon realize they tell a lovely story together.
The mountains across the sea that you can see from the lighthouse are where Nagasaki’s Shimabara is. The main stage of the Shimabara Rebellion ended with Tokugawa Shogunate’s victory in 1638.
Furthermore, the stairs leading to the lighthouse also have paws painted. It is almost like a cat is leading you to one of the best attractions on Yu Island!
Yushima Beach (湯島海水浴場)
Just a 6-minute walk from Yushima Port, the small but gorgeous Yushima Beach is where sea turtles lay their eggs. So if you visit Yu Island from May to July, watch your steps just in case some turtle eggs or baby turtles are on your way!
The Heart-Shaped Ficus Superba
Just a 2-minute walk from Yushima Port, there is a large ficus superb tree.
The tree was planted more than 100 years ago as a windbreak. But, as time passed by, the shape of the tree started to look like a heart! So couples started to take photos in front of the tree, hoping they could live happily ever after!
Tip: The tree is another spot on Yu Island where cats gather. So before you snap a photo of the tree, how about waiting for a few minutes for the felines to step into the photo?
Furthermore, close to the ficus superb tree, there is a large rock that was used for mooring in the past. Nowadays, it is another popular spot for those who are seeking the ideal partner. It is said that if you put both of your hands on the rock, it will use its magical power and find that perfect person for you soon!
How much Time Is Required to Explore Yu Island?
As mentioned previously, Yu Island isn’t all that big. But it does have a couple of attractions that you can stop by.
Strolling around the island will only take around 60 minutes. But you will want to leave yourself enough time to play with cats and have photography sessions.
Thus, in total, around 2 to 2.5 hours should be enough. Note that this doesn’t include time for dining in one of the two restaurants on the island. The restaurants don’t have vegetarian options.
Discover Other Cat Islands in Japan
Yu 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!