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December 27, 2013

The purrfect island cat paradise

OZU, Japan — About 13 kilometers (eight miles) off Shikoku in the Sea of Iyo, there's an island whose feline population exceeds that of the human islanders by five times.

Aoshima, an island spanning 1.5 kilometers (about .9 miles) from east to west and just 500 meters (about .3 miles) from north to south in Ozu, is called the "island of cats," as more than 100 cats live there, while there are only 15 people.

In late September, Aoshima became a focus of attention on the Internet, drawing a number of visitors from all over Japan. The island, which doesn't have accommodations, restaurants or even vending machines, has become a paradise not only for cats, but also for cat lovers.

The 15 non-feline residents range in age from their 50s to their 80s. Four of them are fishermen, and most of the others are pensioners. During World War II, the island's population increased due to an inflow of evacuees and peaked at 655 in 1960. Since then, the majority have left the island to find jobs.

Currently, a ferry — the only means of transportation — connects Aoshima and the island of Shikoku twice a day.

According to the islanders, about a decade ago, when the number of islanders fell below 50, the number of cats began to increase apparently due to abandoned cats breeding unchecked. There are many vacant houses that serve as their comfy hideouts. They are also free from traffic accidents as there are no cars on the island.

"They bother me because they sometimes sneak into my house. But there's nothing we can do about the increasing number of cats," said fisherman Hidenori Kamimoto, 63, taking a benevolent attitude.

On one sunny autumn day, dozens of cats were lounging behind walls. When people come around, the cats approach them for food. Pictures of such scenes were taken, posted on the Internet and re-posted on blogs.

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