A travel destination packed with cats, not tourists. 

After checking out the mysterious octagonal tunnel of Kyushu and riding the rickety monorail to a hidden cave in Nara, our team would like to introduce you to another off-the-beaten-path destination in Japan, and this this time we’re headed to a cat island in the Seto Inland Sea.

Lying between Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, the Seto Inland Sea laps the coasts of three of Japan’s five main islands, and scattered throughout its peaceful waters are a number of even smaller islands, several of which are known as cat islands due to their large populations of free-roaming feline residents.

Our Japanese-language reporter Masami decided to leave her Frappuccino-reporting duties behind for a day to meet the furry residents of one of these cat islands, settling on Manabeshima as her dream destination.

Located 31 kilometres (19 miles) by boat from the main Japanese island of Honshu, Manabeshima lies off the coast of Okayama Prefecture, and can be reached by regular ferry in 70 minutes for 1,040 yen (US$9.54), or a high-speed ferry in 44 minutes for 1,790 yen.

▼ The ferry departs from Kasaoka Port.

The ride across really makes you realise just how many islands there are in the inland sea, with this ferry alone stopping at six different islands on its journey.

Manabeshima is the second-last stop on the trip, which means you get to really enjoy the ride on the water.

Arriving at Manabeshima is like arriving on a film set, with picturesque stretches of coastal scenery and quaint scenes along the port showing the tranquility of life in an old Japanese fishing village. In fact, the island served as the location for films like Gokumonto, starring a very young Ken Watanabe back in 1977, and MacArthur’s Children, which was filmed here in 1984.

▼ Now the island is filled with a cast of cats numbering in the hundreds, making it picture purr-fect for both photographers and cat lovers.

When she arrived, locals were happy to see Masami with her camera out, approaching her for a friendly chat and giving her pointers on what to do and see around the island. Residents say in past years there used to be many more cats than there are today, but during her conversation with the locals, scores of cats still loitered around them, taking up spots on benches…

▼ In cosy crevices…

▼ And along the sea wall.

Masami was truly surprised not just by the number of cats surrounding her, but the amount of different coats they were displaying, with some covered in solid jet black…

▼ And others in calico.

▼ There were also bicolour varieties…

▼ Ginger furballs…

▼ Tabbies…

▼ And eye-catching tortoiseshell kitties as well.

▼ All the cats were friendly and happy to be photographed, walking up to her for a pat and even revealing their stomachs for belly rubs as she walked by.

After spending some time enjoying the company of cats in the refreshing sea breeze, Masami decided it was time to taste some of the local food. Given that the island’s main commercial activity is fishing, Masami was looking forward to enjoying a seafood lunch, but she was surprised when she ordered some fresh sashimi and this enormous platter was presented to her.

The sashimi set meal was a bargain, costing 2,500 yen (US$22.94) per person, which included the huge platter of seafood for two, with rice, miso soup, tempura and several side dishes. It was fresh, homely, and incredibly delicious.

The quality of the sashimi was particularly fantastic, sourced directly from the sea surrounding the island.

After lunch, Masami went for a quick stroll along the quiet streets, with the island’s feline residents accompanying her to the port for her ferry back home.

As one of the seven inhabited islands of the Kasaoka Island chain, Manabeshima can be visited as a day trip from Okayama, and with an area of 1.49 kilometres (0.93 miles), it’s easily walkable by foot. Masami highly recommends visiting the island for its relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, warm and friendly locals, and a seafood feast befitting a feline king!

Don’t forget to check the timetable well in advance if you want to catch the last ferry back to the mainland, but if you do miss the ferry, you can always head out on one of the walking trails to stay overnight at Santora, and find out why Manabeshima was so beloved by French illustrator Florent Chavouet.


Manabeshima / 真鍋島
Address:Okayama-ken, Kasaoka-shi, Manabeshima

Photos ©SoraNews24
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