10 Must-Visit Animal Islands That Will Surprise You in Japan

cat island Japan Hidden places in Japan

As everyone knows, Japan is an island country. It consists of a number of islands, and each of them has different characteristics such as the size, climate, and the population. Some of them also have a role as a home to several kinds of animals, and offer an enjoyable time for tourists with adorable animals! In recent years, a better transportation system including ferries enables more people to visit isolated islands more easily. In this article, we will take you to a special tour to explore 10 best animal islands in Japan! 

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Cat islands

Tashiro Island

Tashiro Island is a small island located off the coast of Ishinomaki city in Miyagi prefecture. The island is about 11 km around, and there are over 100 cats living there in harmony with local people. The island was once known as a famous raw silk producer, and cats helped them get rid of rats which were harmful for silkworms.

They also predicted the luck of fishing according to their behavior. There is still a shrine which is dedicated to cats called Cat Shrine.

Access

To the boat terminal, there are three ways as follows;

  1. Walk 15 minutes from JR Ishinomaki Station to Ajishima Line boat terminal
  2. Take a bus from JR Ishinomaki and get off at Kadonowaki Nichome bus stop or Chuo Icchome bus stop
  3. Take a taxi to Chuo Hacchakujo

Get off at Nitoda Port (about 50 minutes)

Aoshima

Aoshima is situated approximately 13.5 km west of Nagahama port in Ehime prefecture. It suddenly became famous as pictures of cats living there were posted on the internet by travelers. It is home to more than 100 wild cats whereas the population of the island is only fifteen. It is getting more attention from cat lovers as a paradise where they can interact with adorable cats in a peaceful environment. The number of passengers who can take a ferry to the island per day is strictly controlled, and there is no place to stay overnight or vending machines. Plan your visit carefully and follow the rules to protect the environment for cats. 

Access

From JR Iyo Nagahama Station, walk 2 minutes to Nagahama port and take Aoshima ferry (about 35 minutes)

Ainoshima

Ainoshima is a famous cat island approximately 7.5 km northwest of Shingu port in Fukuoka prefecture. With its long history, the island appears in some famous historical documents in Japan, and still holds interesting historical spots as well. There are over 150 cats, and the number is still increasing. It was chosen as one of the best cat islands in the world by CNN Travel in 2013, and now popular among not only domestic but also international tourists as well. Take a day trip when you visit Fukuoka!

Access

From JR Kokura Station, 5 minutes walk to Kokura Port and take a ferry (about 35 minutes)

Rabbit island

Ookuno Island

Ookuno Island is a peaceful island located in the Seto Island Sea. Seto Island Sea refers to a domestic sea which separates the main island of Japan from other regions such as “Shikoku” and “Kyushu”. It is accessible by ferry which you can take from Takehara city in Hiroshima prefecture. There are 900 wild rabbits living there, which welcome visitors with the adorable appearance. You can get food for them at a shop before getting on a ferry. You can feed them by hand and enjoy watching them relaxed under shades of trees in summer. There is a hotel which offers tourists an accommodation and light meals. This island attracts tourists not only for the cuteness of rabbits ― there is a dark side of the island too. During WW2, there was a secret manufacturing facility to produce poisonous gas weapons. Rabbits were used to test the effectiveness of the weapon, and ruins of the plants can be found everywhere. It offers a valuable opportunity to learn about the tragic history as well.   

Access

Go to Tadanoumi Station and walk 3 minutes to Tadanoumi Port and take a ferry (15 minutes)

Dolphin islands

Mikura Island

Mikura Island is a volcanic island which belongs to Tokyo. It is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 190 km south of Tokyo with an iconic mountain called “Oyama” in the center. Because of the plenty of nature and clear water, it is known as a home to valuable plants and animals as well. The highlight of the island is wild dolphins which inhabit the surrounding sea. Tourists can join an exciting tour which offers a swimming experience with the dolphins in the beautiful ocean! It enables you to watch them closely while exploring the breathtaking world under the sea. Touching them is strictly prohibited, so enjoy your time with them while keeping a safe distance.

Access

  1. Take a plane from Haneda airport to Hachijo-jima and take a ferry to Mikura island (total 5 hours)
  2. Take a ferry to Mikura-jima from Takeshiba Pier (about 7 hours 30 minutes)

Noto Isand

Noto Island is another island where tourist can swim with dolphins. It is accessible by car as it is connected to the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture with bridges. There are about 15 dolphins living there and they are all family. Tourist can encounter dolphins with a high possibility because they hardly leave the area. Dolphin watching from a boat is also available. There are other tourist attractions such as famous aquarium and hot spring resorts nearby as well. 

Access

Take a bus or taxi from Wakura Onsen Station to get to Noto Island (about 10 minutes drive)

Sheep island

Yagishiri Isand

Yagishiri Island is located 25 km west of Hokkaido. About one third of the island is covered with forest, and it boasts a large variety of species and plants which fascinates visitors throughout a year. Designated partly as National Natural Monument, it has a number of scenic spots in a refreshing atmosphere as well. It is also known for the Suffolk sheep, which originates from UK. Visitors can watch them relaxing and eating grasses in a spacious meadow. Their meat is tender and treated as an expensive, high-quality ingredient perfect for French dishes. You can rent a bike to explore the island while feeling the refreshing air!

Access

Take a ferry from Haboro Port (about an hour by ferry, about 35 minutes by jet ferry)

Monkey island

Kou Island

Kou Island is a tiny island located about 200m east off the coast of Miyazaki prefecture. It is only 3.5 km around, but is a home to approximately 100 wild monkeys. Visitors usually need to take a boat, but you can also walk there during low tide. There are also other animals such as rabbits and raccoons, and the island is officially designated as Natural Monument. Monkeys living there have a unique habit that they wash potatoes and dip them in the salty water of the sea before eating. It helps them add some salty taste to the potatoes, and surprisingly, the habit is passed down to the younger generations! It indicates that they are capable of building new culture just like human beings. Visiting there offers you an unusual experience to see the smart monkeys in nature!

Access

From JR Nango Station, take a bus to Koujima iriguchi and take a boat to Kou island (about 5 minutes)

Deer island

Miyajima

Miyajima is known as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. It is an island which belongs to Hiroshima prefecture, and often can be found in travel books with the iconic, huge red tori gate standing in the sea. It takes only 10 minutes to get to the island by ferry, and there are a number of historical sites and shops selling local specialties such as oysters and Momiji Manju. It also boasts a habitat of a number of wild deer welcoming visitors. They are believed to be messengers of God which is dedicated to the Itsukushima shrine in the island. They stroll around the island freely, and visitors are allowed to take pictures with them.  

Access

From JR MIyajimaguchi Station, take a ferry to Miyajima (about 10 minutes)

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Horse island

Yonaguni Isand

Yonaguni Island is located at the westernmost point of Japan. It belongs to Okinawa prefecture, and widely known for the incomparable scenic spots represented by the blue ocean and beautiful white beaches. “Yonaguni Horse” refers to a small horse which is indigenous to the island. It is counted as one of the 8 existing breeds which are native to Japan, was designated as National Natural Monument in 1969. It is biologically categorized as pony, and the height range from 110 to 120 cm on average. They offer several activities that tourist can touch the horses and spend a memorable time with them. You can ride them and explore the island, or enjoy a horse ride on a sandy beach. There is also an exciting activity which allows you to get into the ocean while riding a horse!   

Access

  1. Take a plane from Naha airport to Yonaguni airport (about 1hour 15 minutes)
  2. Shin Ishigaki airport to Yonaguni airport (about 30 minutes)
  3. Take a ferry to Ishigaki Port to Kubura Port (about 4 hours)

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The number of the ferries to the island is often limited, so please check the time table carefully when you plan to go. We hope you find any of the islands above interesting enough to add to your itinerary to Japan!

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Happy travelling!

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