News from the Isle of Cats

Todays news: updates from Cat Island, Aoshima.

Since posting about my fantasy of taking a voyage to cat island, I’ve been gifted with an abundance of virtual news about the island of Aoshima, Japan, which only enhances my appreciation for its magic. Last night, I realized that I had been neglecting updates (these cats have their own Facebook group and Instagram account, for anyone interested), and made a note to resume when I woke. When I refer to “checking news” in the morning, I’m generally referring to updates pertaining to cats, craigslist, news from publications such as The Siberian Times, recipe blogs, and poetry. As for other news, that happens later in the day when I’m sufficiently primed for its assault.  

I was grateful to remember this after hitting snooze for the second time this groggy morning, so that I could wake with a clear and immediate objective to accompany my first sips of coffee. Let’s see what’s new on the island, I said to Buzz, assuming the imagined vocal inflections of a top-tier investor over numbers reports while delivering her obligatory morning helping of Gravy Lover’s Seafood Selections.

Apparently, some of the cats have been getting drunk on matatabi brought by tourists (I’m thinking this is in the family of catnip, but perhaps of the higher-grade variety that only celebrities know). They may fight under the influence, but then they fall asleep. 

Nana-chan’s preferred spot is on the laps of visiting tourists. They call her “sleeping princess,” and her fan base continues to grow.

This is the sort of story I imagined when I first learned of the place: cats wandering around: much loping, lounging, purring and meowing when the Captain and Cat Mom bring food, and engaging in inaudible cat-banter about the antics of these two-legged servants among them, in all manner of motley dress and vocal expression. However, I have since learned that Aoshima, like any inhabited isle, is not without dramatic inflection.

Consider, for example, the tale of Choco-chan, one of the last litters of the island, now that all known feline residents been spayed or neutered (In my original post, I shared that a prior attempt had left a critical mass of cats untreated, and no doubt these continued to mate, argue, and bear litters in a manner that suggested an endless proliferation of cats on the island—but alas, the numbers may witness a decline in coming decade). Choco-chan, a white-chocolate kitten born in 2015, was quickly certified as “The #1 Cutest” of all the Aoshima cats. Reporters and television crews from the mainland came to take his photograph. “Fabulous!” they exclaimed, as Choco-chan posed with a pink feather boa looped festively around his neck and torso. He was spoiled with extra sausage, sashimi, and other delectables while the other cats (many still un-neutered, mind you) grew resentful.

You know the story: to everything there is a season, and the pride cometh before the fall. After kitten season, news crews vanished. Choco-chan, no longer having to be plied for photo shoots with extra servings of cat-delicacies like sausage and sashimi, was escorted back to the common feeding area. “He is middle-aged man cat now” and has survived being widely oppressed by the other cats, who seem to have given him quite a hard time upon his return. Choco-chan no longer attempts to eat in the feeding area, and is presumably fed in a furtive manner by the same adoring cat mom who originally singled him out for preferential treatment. 

October is a hot month, and the cats have mostly been lounging in the shade. “No one is fighting anymore,” one tourist observes. “Everyone has eaten. It is a peaceful world.”

People put great bowls of cool water out for the stars. “The cats are drinking water deliciously,” someone posts, and it is true. They drink, orange heads over stainless steel bowls, absorbed in the ritual, and it is delicious. 


Considering a voyage to cat island.

What are you doing?

Studying up. I’ll be traveling soon.


Cat Island. 


They have one, I think. But this is Japan, which has a few. 

How’d that happen? Have you been reading Murakami again?

Burroughs, actually. But the island, it used to be a hub for the sardine trade. There was a rodent problem on the boats, so the fishermen started taking in strays. The cats were treated well by the villagers. After all, they were essential workers. 

Are they still? 

Well-treated, yes. They outnumber villagers ten to one. But the sardine trade dried up. People left, except for the old timers. Cats stayed. Someone thought it would be a good idea to spay and neuter them awhile back, but a significant group escaped the knife. They’re somewhat of a sensation now. 

Ever read Timothy Morton, the philosopher?

Oh, right. Who loves how cats blur the false boundary between Nature and Us.

Did you know that next to birds, cats have the widest range of vocalizations of any domestic pet?

The meowing would be just for kittens, but it persists into adulthood among domesticated species, as a cry for something from a caretaker.

Loneliness can do it, too. And hunger. By the longer, throatier Meeeoooooow can mean concern, or existential annoyance.

Oh, C’mon.

Yes, I think that’s actually what it means.

Well. Then, purring is contentment, obviously.

Sure, but it can mean worry, too. Like how humans will whistle when nervous, as distraction.

Chirping is my favorite.

Mothers will do that to tell the kittens to pay attention and follow along.

What about those little chirrups at the window? 

Means they are excited, sometimes about a bird. 


That’s for longing. It can be for a mate, or they could miss their old home.

They’re nostalgic, then?

We are the cats inside, Burroughs wrote. Talk about a man who loved cats.

Who cannot walk alone, and for us there is only one place.


Notes: For a beautiful photo essay of Japan’s largest cat island, Aoshima, you can click here.

An excellent article about philosopher Timothy Morton can be found here.

The Burroughs quote is from his novella, The Cat Inside.