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December 27, 2013

The purrfect island cat paradise

(Continued)

OZU, Japan —

Since then, the Ozu city government's Nagahama branch has received phone calls from those who are eager to visit the island.

In October on a ferry, I saw eight visitors, including a woman on a solo trip and a couple. They spent their day on the island photographing or feeding the cats.

Kafumi Munehira, 50, from Mihara, had spent the night in the city of Ozu to catch a ferry at the Iyo-Nagahama Port the following morning to Aoshima. She stayed on the island for nine hours until the evening.

"I'm overwhelmed by how many cats there are! There are nothing but cats here, and I don't mind that at all," she said.

Sayumi Nagamori, 23, from Sanuki, said, "I can observe their natural life here."

Ferry capt. Nobuyuki Ninomiya said, "I seldom carried tourists before, but now I carry tourists every week, even though the only thing we have to offer is cats."

Yuji Tsuzuki, 41, of the branch's regional promotion division, said he'd like to organize tourism with cats as a theme if the number of tourists continues increasing, but he hopes the tourists will show basic manners such as not feeding the cats too much or leaving garbage.

"Cat islands" exist in and outside Japan, helping to boost regional tourism. Tashirojima island in Ishinomaki is home to 86 people and about 100 cats. Fishermen there regard cats as the gods of a good catch, and there's even a cat shrine.

On the island of Malta, cats, which were aboard a ship to ward off rats, began breeding, and currently there are about 800,000 cats — double the population of islanders. Every year, about 20,000 Japanese visit the Mediterranean island, many of whom are said to visit to see the cats. The Malta tourism office in Japan hands visitors a ballpoint pen designed with Hello Kitty in an Order of Malta costume.

On the island, visitors can feed cats within a conservation area managed by a volunteer group.

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