If you’re even a little bit of a cat person, it will interest you to know that Japan has a number of ‘cat islands’ off its coasts. Over time, the number of cats on the island has accumulated, meaning the human residents have plenty of furry friends to keep them company. Eight kilometres off the coast of Fukuoka, Ainoshima Island is one such place. With the warm sun in the sky, a gentle sea breeze and myriad cats circling your feet, it’s hard not to feel relaxed there. And, as it’s just under 2 hours from Hakata Station, it makes an ideal day trip from Fukuoka City. Here’s our guide to visiting Ainoshima Cat Island.
The facts about Ainoshima
The island is around 8km from the mainland, connected by a ferry from Shingu Port. It’s a small place, only 5km around, so you can definitely walk a loop and hit all the sights. Aside from the many resident cats, there are also lovely coastal views, shrines and even some impressive rock formations. My recommendation? Set aside a whole day for this because time flies when you’re having fun!
Food-wise, there are a couple of cafe/restaurant options as well as a small grocery store, but it’s always a good idea to have a backup rice ball tucked away for emergencies. Check out this map of all the key points of interest on your Ainoshima journey to get acquainted.
Note: make sure you don’t miss the last ferry home as accommodation on Ainoshima is very limited: Marumiya Ryokan (丸己屋旅館) [phone only] and Stay House Kashi. In this article, we’ll be going heavy on the logistics because we don’t think you’ll need any help enjoying time with cats once you’re there.
Getting from Fukuoka to Ainoshima
To be safe, allow 2 hours to get to Ainoshima from Fukuoka City. This allows for toilet and convenience store stops without the panic of missing a connection. I would also recommend starting early, as it can get busy particularly on weekends and holidays meaning first come first served for the ferry.
Fukuoka to Nishitetsu Shingu Station
The first leg of the journey involves catching a train to Nishitetsu Shingu Station. A convenient start point in the city is Nakasukawabata Station in the Tenjin area (just 2 stops from Hakata Station). Take the Hakozaki subway line to Kaizuka then change to the Nishitetsu-Kaizuka Line bound for Nishitetsu Shingu. This takes around 45 minutes, however, it’s best to allow a little more time for toilet stops or getting lost. Cost is ~¥530pp.
From Nishitetsu Shingu Station to the Ferry Terminal
There are a few ways to get to the ‘Ainoshima Ferry Terminal’ (Shingu Port) from Nishitetsu Shingu Station. There is a ¥100 community bus from this bus stop to the left of the station, however, the timetables and routes can be quite confusing so we recommend a nice 20-30 minute stroll to the port.
For those walking, follow this map, which includes a 7-11 stop in case you need to stock up on food for the day. Cross the train tracks, keeping an eye out for the nyan (cat) train.
Follow the road as it curves around, following signs to ‘Ainoshima Ferry Port.’ Once you cross the river, head right and follow the road all the way to the Ferry Terminal. Keep an eye out for cats on your journey.
The ferry from Shingu to Ainoshima
Check the Shingu town website for an up to date ferry timetable. Typically there are six ferries per day. At the time of writing, the first ferry departs Shingu at 7:50 am, followed by 9:20 and then growing more sporadic from there. You’ll want an absolute minimum of two hours on the island; there is a surprising amount to see. A suggested route based on the current timetable would be to catch the 9:20 am ferry from Shingu and the 1:50 return. However, you could go earlier and stay later for extra exploring time. Make sure to check the current timetable beforehand.
Go inside the grey building, the ‘Ainoshima Ferry Terminal’, and head to the ticket machine in the corner. All the signage says to just buy a one-way ticket to the island, then get your return ticket once you arrive.
The top line (blue buttons) are adult tickets. From left to right: 1 adult, 2 adults, 3 adults, 1 disabled adult, group ticket of 11 trips. Same on the bottom line but for children.
Make your way out to the ferry, with all the excited photographers and fishing enthusiasts. With a series of horn toots, we begin the 17-minute journey that whisks us to whisker wonderland.
Last piece of logistical work for now: buy your return ticket
You’ve done so well, it’s almost time to relax! The last piece of the puzzle is to buy your return ferry ticket. Head into the small dark brown building with the curved roof. The signs say not to let the cats in, but some had snuck in and were enjoying the warmth. You’ll find another ticket machine like the last one, buy the same type of ticket.
Time to explore the island. First up, cats.
No doubt you’ve already seen a bajillion cats around the port and gotten pretty excited. This is the place to see all the cats. Enjoy watching them and taking pictures, but be careful as they are strays and not all friendly and healthy.
Checking out some rock formations
If you can tear yourself away from your new feline friends, Ainoshima also has some great rock features. Follow the road around behind the elementary school, where you’ll hear kids chattering and laughing from the open windows. You’ll also notice the number of cats declining the further you wander from the fishermen (and fish) at the port. Funny that.
As I stroll along the road, a little pickup truck drives past me. Three women sit in the tray with floral bonnets tied under their chins. I blink and watch as they zip over the hill and out of sight. After about 20 minutes of quiet roads and nice views, I see the sign pointing me right towards the rock formations. Take the sandy path for a minute or so and you’re there.
Ainoshima Stone Tumuli
A tumulus (plural: tumuli) is essentially a burial mound, where soil or rocks are stacked above gravesites, popular in the Kofun period (300-538AD). Over 250 mounds, thought to date back to the mid-late Kofun Period, have been identified in Shingu and the site is a nationally designated historic site. As I stand, taking it all in, I notice the working bee I’d spotted in the van. They’re all bent over, digging at the ground, laughing and joking in the sun.
Megane iwa (めがね岩)
A little to the right along the rocky shore is ‘Spectacle Rock’, or megane iwa. This basalt formation stands in the sea, with a large opening in the middle where the water has pushed through.
I make my way back to the road and towards the port. The air is fresh and salty and it’s so quiet—save for the wildlife, that is. Eagles screech as they circle overhead, bugs and birds chirp from the trees, and distant ships buzz by in the background.
I pass a group of women chatting by the school; a cat saunters by, not interested in the conversation.
As I near the port, I come across another group who had brought along a toy to entertain the cats.
I stop for a play and a chat before reluctantly hopping on a return ferry. With my pre-purchased ticket in hand, I was able to just stroll aboard.
As we pull away, I watch the people fishing all around the port and the hungry cats patiently waiting for scraps.
This was the beginning of a new obsession, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. More things to see on Ainoshima cat island here.
Post by Japan Journeys.