Japan has several ‘cat islands’, but if you’re in Fukuoka there’s one quite close to you: Ainoshima.

You might have seen these cats without realizing: the photos of local photographer Fubirai went viral a few years ago (he’s still visiting and documenting the cats), though at the time, few articles mentioned the island or where it was. You can get there from Hakata on local trains and a ferry for about ¥2,000 return—the perfect cheapo cat day trip.

Of course, the main draw is the cats. There are lots hanging around the small port village—even in the pouring rain, some will be on hand to greet you. Look around for others having a frolic or a snooze. Remember, too, that these cats are feral. Some are friendly, but others won’t hesitate to make their displeasure felt if you push your luck.

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Stray cats in Ainoshima Island, Known as Cat Heaven Island, Kyushu | Photo by iStock.com/ahei

Ainoshima has more to offer than furry felines, however. The island is small, about 5km to walk round. At the eastern edge is a small shrine and an interesting historical feature: piles of stones dating from the 5th century, called tumuli (probably marking ancient graves). The coastline is idyllic, and keep an eye out for an offshore rock formation known as ‘glasses rock’ (Megane Iwa).

Back to the west side, there are a couple more shrines. A small restaurant by the port serves drinks and simple meals, and the Japanese owner will enthuse about cats and get out her phone to show you photos of her pets. And somewhere on the island (follow the signs in Japanese) is a summer-only onsen.

Getting to Ainoshima

The ferry leaves the mainland from Shingu Port, so first you have to get there. From Hakata, take a train to Chihaya, then change to Nishitetsu Chihaya (they’re in the same building so the transfer only takes a couple of minutes). Take another train to Nishitetsu Shingu. These are commuter lines so trains are pretty regular—several an hour, and the journey takes 40 minutes. The fare is ¥460.

(If you’re at the Tenjin side of Fukuoka, take the Hakozaki subway line to Kaizuka and change for Nishitetsu Shingu. This route costs a little more: ¥530.)

From Nishitetsu Shingu Station you can walk to the port in about 20 minutes. I think it’s fairly easy to spot on Google Maps, but someone else clearly doesn’t agree and built a website to clear up any location difficulties.

ainoshima cat island
Photo by iStock.com/ahei

If you’d rather not walk, you can catch the local community bus. We’re now getting to a point where a smattering of Japanese would be handy; if that’s beyond you, install the Google Translate plug-in for Chrome to help you read the Shingu town website.

A word about buses: the first thing you need to know is that the bus starts and ends at the station (at the time of writing, Google is translating Nishitetsu Shingu as Nishitetsu Shinomiya, which isn’t helpful).

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The second thing you need to know is that the buses travel in circular routes, clockwise and anti-clockwise. The third is that they’re not terribly regular, but are timed to connect with the ferry; the fourth is that each journey costs ¥100. The fifth is that you catch the bus from a car park to the left of Nishitetsu Shingu Station.

I mean, to be honest, I’d probably just walk if you can.

There are a handful of ferry sailings a day. Each sailing takes about 20 minutes and costs ¥460 each way. Buy tickets from a machine on the Shingu side and a little office on Ainoshima. Just make sure you get the last boat back, because (as far as I’m aware) there’s nowhere to stay on the island.

For another cat island at the other end of the country, check our guide to Tashirojima Cat Island. If rabbits are more your thing, check our guide to Okunoshima and its disturbing past.

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