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Shrine honours cats on Japanese island where felines outnumber humans

The Neko Jinja pays tribute to cats as guardian angels on Tashirojima.

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Japanese cat shrine

On a small island off Japan’s north-eastern coast, visitors make offerings at a shrine for unlikely local guardians: cats.

The “Neko Jinja”, or Cat Shrine, mythologises cats as guardian angels of Tashirojima, where cats outnumber humans.

According to legend, the island used to be famous for sericulture (silk production) and farmers would keep cats because they would chase away rats, protecting the silkworm cocoons from the rodents.

Cats at a restaurant
A tourist takes a photographs of cats gathered at a restaurant at Nitoda Port on Tashirojima island (AP)

Fishermen on the island have also traditionally believed that cats bring good luck, including large hauls of fish.

Another legend says fishermen used to watch the cats’ behaviour for tips on the coming weather before heading to sea.

The islanders have long coexisted with the cats. One day, however, a fisherman accidentally injured a cat while working. Feeling sorry for the injury, the islanders built the shrine for cats.

Japanese sign
The sign reads, ‘Welcome to Tashirojima island’, near Odomari Port in Ishinomaki, in Japan’s north-east (AP)

Tashirojima is part of the city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region, which became well known after a tsunami devastated the area following a massive magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11 2011.

Over 100 cats inhabit Tashirojima, along with about 50 humans, according to the city’s website.

Along a paved road running about 1.2 miles between the island’s two ports, cats groom themselves and mingle with other cats.

Cats are petted
Tourists pet cats on the street (AP)

There are a few cafes and inns, but no car rental shops, gas stations or public transportation.

Tourists are expected to walk up and down the island’s hills while visiting.

Most of the cats are used to tourists, who can be seen petting the friendly animals throughout the island.

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