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Tashirojima (田代島) is a small island in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It lies in the Pacific Ocean off the Oshika Peninsula, to the west of Ajishima. It is an inhabited island, although the population is quite small (around 100 people, down from around 1000 people in the 1950s). It has become known as "Cat Island" due to the large stray cat population that thrives as a result of the local belief that feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune. The cat population is now larger than the human population on the island. (A 2009 article in Sankei News says that there are no pet dogs and it is basically prohibited to bring dogs onto the island.)
The island is divided into two villages/ports: Oodomari and Nitoda. Ajishima, a neighbouring island, used to belong to Oshika Town, while Tashirojima was a part of Ishinomaki City. On April 1, 2005, Oshika Town merged with Ishinomaki City, so now both islands are a part of Ishinomaki City.
Since 83% of the population is classified as elderly, the island's villages have been designated as a "terminal villages" (限界集落) which means that with 50% or more of the population being over 65 years of age, the survival of the villages is threatened. The majority of the people who live on the island are involved either in fishing or hospitality.
Tashirojima may have been a model for the island in Hyokkori Hyōtanjima, a musical puppet series that appeared on TV in Japan in the 1960s (original) and 1990s (remake). Hyōtan means "calabash" (a kind of gourd shaped like the number eight) and the shape of Tashirojima roughly resembles a calabash.
The island is also known as Manga island, as Shotaro Ishinomori had built Manga related buildings on the island, resembling a cat.
Tashiro Elementary School was closed down in 1989 and turned into an educational center. The educational center closed in 2008. Manga Island, a tourist facility, was built in 2000. A 6 km and 10 km race called Hyokkori Hyōtan Tashirojima Marathon was held in 2007.
There is a small cat shrine (neko jinja (猫神社)) in the middle of the island, roughly situated between the two villages. In the past, the islanders raised silkworms for silk, and cats were kept in order to keep the mouse population down (because mice are a natural predator of silkworms). Fixed-net fishing was popular on the island after the Edo Period and fishermen from other areas would come and stay on the island overnight. The cats would go to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. Over time, the fishermen developed a fondness for the cats and would observe the cats closely, interpreting their actions as predictions of the weather and fish patterns. One day, when the fishermen were collecting rocks to use with the fixed-nets, a stray rock fell and killed one of the cats. The fishermen, feeling sorry for the loss of the cat, buried it and enshrined it at this location on the island.
There are at least ten cat shrines in Miyagi Prefecture. There are also 51 stone monuments in the shape of cats, which is an unusually high number compared to the other prefectures. In particular, these shrines and monuments are concentrated in the southern area of the island, overlapping with the regions where silkworms were raised.
In 2004, a couple moved to the island from Sendai and opened up an inn for travelers called Hamaya. In 2006, they started a blog about the island and its inhabitants. On May 20, 2006, Terebi Asahi filmed an episode of Jinsei no Rakuen (人生の楽園) on the island, mentioning the large cat population. Also, a movie about cats made by Fuji Terebi called Nyanko the Movie (にゃんこ THE MOVIE) featured a story about Droopy-Eared Jack (Tare Mimi Jack (たれ耳ジャック)), one of the cats on the island. The movie has been made into a series (the latest one, Nyanko the Movie 4 was released in July 2010) and each one has included an update on Jack. As a result, many cat lovers come to the island and package tours specifically to "look for Jack" are now available. Cat photo contests and exhibitions are now held on the island.