November 03, 2018 20:40:06
An army of cats rules the remote island of Aoshima in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about. (Reuters: Thomas Peter)
The tiny island of Hujing off the coast of Taiwan is typical of these small towns: faced with a lack of jobs and an ageing population of just 200 people, the island knows it is in trouble.
“On some small islands in Japan — due to the abundance of felines — foreigners have been lured in and the cats have become famous tourist attractions leading to young people also returning and helping the community,” she told the ABC.
“A place totally for cat lovers!!! As me and my partner travel there during the rainy season, not a lot of cats roam around. But you will still see some kitties around still! Especially over at the cat cafes!” wrote a traveller from Singapore about Taiwan’s Houtong cat village.
“Even though I was only in Houtong for a limited amount of time, I definitely got excited by all the cat stuff I saw. They were even selling cat cookies. I will definitely visit Houtong again in the future and go to the Cat Village next time,” wrote another traveller from the Philippines.
While there are no official rules for being designated a cat town or island, there are a few things to consider: cats for one, but programs to manage them are also required, as well as the development of associated shops, artwork, and various murals to please tourists.
How do you create a cat island from scratch?
The students in Hujing have taken photographs of local cats to then custom print onto bags and cards made out of recycled clothes — they even turned the public mailbox outside the front of the school into a giant cat.
“They also turn photos of the cats of Hujing into postcard sales, and then use the proce of the charity as a fund for cat food and veterinarian fees.”
The islanders hope Taiwan, which was the home of the first-ever cat cafe, will provide them with the crucial cat tourist demographic, but the cat is already out of the bag: Hujing is not the first town to allow cats to take over.
The town’s population has declined since the 1990s to a reported 100 inhabitants by the mid 2000s, half that of the 200-something cat population.
This is the kind of revival students at Hujing Elementary School are hoping for, but they could be in for quite a catfight over tourists as Houtong is just a short train ride from the capital Taipei, making it popular and potentially more accessible for day trippers, whereas Hujing requires an hour-long flight and then a boat trip.
To complicate the matter, there’s actually international competition for the cat tourist dollar — Taiwan isn’t the only place that has realised the economic potential of cats: Japan has been in the cat tourism business for just as long.
The island of Aoshima in Japan receives boatloads of visitors every year, all eager to see the famous hordes of cats that swarm the island.
Tama — a cat “station master” of a railway station in Japan — receives a birthday cake on her 16th birthday. (Reuters/Kyodo)
In 2006, a declining regional rail company in Japan was desperate to increase passengers and revenue, until people started noticing Tama — who would often greet the passengers as they disembarked — at a local shop at one of the stops.
Shops started selling t-shirts, hats and all things Tama, and in just a couple of years, Tama had reeled in an estimated $US10 million ($13.8 million) in revenue for the railway, according to a study at Osaka University.
When Tama died in 2015, thousands of people attended her funeral and the railway company quickly appointed a successor. It’s this kind economic kitty miracle that attracted the attention of Hujing’s islanders.
Principal Lin thinks there is enough cat love to go around, but she is realistic about the chances of millions of dollars pouring into Hujing — if nothing else, the children will at least learn something and the cats will be well fed, she says.
November 03, 2018 06:09:48