Owning a pet is the dream of many Japan residents, but tight apartments (provided they’re pet-friendly to begin with) and expensive vet visits can be an obstacle for some. And while you can, and will, encounter stray cats in big cities like Tokyo, you might have a harder time befriending them. Most cats come across as skittish and often run away from people. 

Luckily, for those looking for some fluff therapy, Tokyo has some great ethical cat cafés. There are also a few cat islands throughout Japan. Located off the coast of Kyushu, Ainoshima is the region’s most popular cat paradise with a reported 230-plus population of feral and stray cats. For comparison, in 2017 it was reported the island had 273 human residents. Ainoshima has been a haven for stray cats for at least three decades.

How To Get to Ainoshima

Getting to Ainoshima — like any remote location in Japan — requires a bit of pre-planning. Weather, tides and transportation must all be taken into account before traveling to this heart-shaped island. In addition to checking the weather forecast, consult this tide chart, which is specifically tailored to those wanting to get to Ainoshima.

The easiest way to travel is to head to Ainoshima from JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka. Either board the Nishitetsu Train and get off at Nishitetsu-Shingu Station, or hop on a train bound for Fukko-Daimae. Once at your destination, look for Ai-land community buses (#2 from Nishitetsu or #1 from Fukko-Daimae). After 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll arrive at Ainoshima Tosenba (Ferry Terminal).

You can also hail taxis from the stations. A cab ride will set you back between ¥1,100 and ¥1,600, but it’s good to know they’re available.

From Ainoshima Tosenba, you’ll be able to see Shingu Port, where you can board the ferry that will take you to Ainoshima. From this point, you might already encounter some cats which travelers can pet and play with while they wait.

A one-way ferry trip from Shingu port to Ainoshima costs ¥460 while a return ticket costs ¥920.  

Photo by Hokiyu via Shutterstock

What Else Can You Do on Ainoshima?

Ainoshima is a humble cat island. Apart from a little sightseeing here and there and playing with the cats, there’s nothing much to do here.  You can explore the island by renting a bicycle from the tourist information center called Shima no Eki Ainoshima. It’s important to note, though, that this place does not accept reservations. It works on a first-come, first-serve basis. The earlier you reach the island, the higher your chances of getting a bicycle of your choice. If you cannot get one, nothing to worry about, the island is small enough to be explored on foot. 

Other noteworthy locations include Wakamiya Shrine, close to the ferry terminal, Dragon Lord Rock on the south end of the island, as well as Hanagurise Rock.

Things To Know Before Visiting Ainoshima

As with many of Japan’s more remote locations, there are a few things to keep in mind, plus some rules you should respect while visiting. If you’re considering making a trip to Ainoshima, here’s what you should keep in mind.

The cats are friendly and affectionate. They seem to enjoy human company and will allow you to pet them. Some may even follow you around the island. While petting is fine, it is forbidden to feed the cats on Ainoshima, as locals already provide them with appropriate food. All you can give them is love and quality time. We also recommend packing hand sanitizer because, even though the cats appear clean, they are feral and may carry diseases and germs.

Always check the weather before traveling to Aionshima. Bad weather and rough tides may dampen your experience. 

There are no convenience stores on the island or at Shingu Port. There is one small café but in the event that you happen to visit on a day when the café is closed, we recommend packing some snacks and drinks for your trip.

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