March 2011 — the world is shocked by yet another natural disaster, the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. In the worst struck area, a few miles off the north-eastern shore lay a small island most of the world had never heard of before. But news of its unusual occupants was to strike a chord all around the globe.
Because of the devastating earthquakes and tsunami of March 2011, a small island off the east coast of Japan began getting some world attention. The name, Tashirojima, describes it perfectly. It means Cat Island, which it was named because of the large colony of cats who live there alongside the human population that care for them.
The island lies about 9 miles off Ishinokawa, not far from Sendai. This was in the heart of the worse struck area, and cat lovers around the globe were concerned about the plight of the animal and human islanders following the disaster. Many of them were previously unaware of its existence, but the mass of internet postings, declaring the miraculous survival of most of the inhabitants, brought it into world focus.
In the history of the island, there are two possible reasons for the existence of so many cats there. The first dates from a time when the island was a silk producing center. Cats were introduced to control the mice for whom a silkworm was a juicy meal. The second reason could be because the presence of cats are considered lucky for the fishing industry. Fishermen who lived on the island or spent time there loved to see the cats and fed and petted them. Nobody could have a dog on Cat Island.
More recently, while the fishing continued, another industry had grown up which relied on the cats: tourism. Several Japanese entrepreneurs had opened inns on the island, and there was even a holiday camp in one corner of it. Many of its buildings were constructed to resemble cat shapes or had cat motifs in one form or another. Cat shaped monuments and shrines were dotted around the island as well. While it didn’t boast any banks, gas stations, independent restaurants, or schools, since the majority of its 100 or so strong human population was elderly, its one post office sold picture postcards for the cat-mad tourists.
Tashirojima covered about 8 square miles of land, that included some high ground, which seemed to be how most of the cats and humans there managed to escape the tsunami, although the island was reported to be engulfed by the huge waves. Still they were left without food or shelter, and little hope of help except from the air, since the ocean was so littered with debris that ferries and other sea-going vessels could not get there.
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