Journey in Japan Part 14: Ainoshima Cat Island

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With muscles loose thanks to a wonderful massage, I decide to really test my body. My destination today is Ainoshima Cat Island, via Shima Ferry Port. “You’re cycling to Shima?” A confused staff member asks, “Please make sure the bike is back before 9 pm okay. It has to be back before nine.” The time now is 11 am, I have no intention of taking ten hours on this excursion. What little did I know?

I cycle for an hour in the direction that Google told me to, before realising that I have no idea where I am. I cycle around an industrial estate for a good half hour, before reaching a dead end, turning around, and eventually getting back on track. None of the road signs speak my language, and there is nobody around to ask.

Ninety minutes into my journey and I arrive at a beach.

The beach offers a welcome rest, so I park up my bicycle and go for a short stroll. I find the only map in Fukuoka Prefecture and compare it to my photographed route; it all matches up. I still have a long way to go, but at least I know where I am. Thank you ‘Mishima Water Area Circumference Route Map’.

At the end of the beach is a seemingly closed amusement park called ‘Motown’.

I cycle until the beach ends and the houses begin. I start to travel uphill in what I hope is the direction of Shima. Eventually, I am atop a mountain. This doesn’t look right. I find a really pretty random shrine up here, and some really old houses, but not a lot else.

I eventually get to the downhill part of this annoying journey, only to find a dead end overlooking the ocean. I then push my bicycle back up the incredibly steep mountain roads. It is exhausting. It is 35°C today. I have already used a full bottle of Sun Aqua up to now.

At the top of the mountain, I see a human being. I ask him in Japanese which way to Shima. He replies in Japanese, but I think I understand. I follow his directions and am relieved to find a small train station. In the train station, one of the stops on the route is Shima.

I decide to follow the railway tracks. Sometimes they disappear, other times I am forced to make a detour for lack of pavement or road. After a hard-fought battle with directions, I eventually see a sign for Shima. I follow the instructions on the sign, and somehow, after two hours and forty-five minutes of cycling, I arrive at the ferry port. “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Fukuoka anymore.” I pay ¥460 to a vending machine for a one-way ticket. After a forty minute wait, the ferry finally arrives.

On the ferry, a television shows footage of a dirty factory in Shanghai. Staff members with blurred out faces relabel one-year-old rotten meat with new expiry dates. There is an image of a pile of processed meat spilling onto the floor. Rats crawl below. The gloop is scooped up and squashed into another machine. The machine churns the gloop into the shape of nuggets. I have no idea what this is an advert for.

Ainoshima Island is just off the coast. The journey takes twenty minutes. It has more cats living on the island than human beings. In Japanese, the word for cat is, ‘neko’, and the way it is pronounced rhymes it with ‘echo’.

I arrive on the island. There is a pile of traditional old Japanese houses, and the backdrop to these houses is mountainous and covered in deep forests. Although rather small, the island still takes a long time to walk the full length. Between each of the houses, in the shade, there are cats, sleeping quietly.

I wander around the island. The small Japanese houses offer very little shade from the summer sun. Today is the hottest day so far this year. I see more cats than I care to photograph.

There is one cat that takes a shine to me. He follows me around the island as I walk. Meowing, crying. I don’t know which. I offer him some of my water but he just says, “Nyaa nyaa,” (the noise that cats make here). Maybe he is just hungry. I presume tourists visit this island to come and feed the cats, but this is only a presumption.

I take the 4 pm ferry off the island. There are only three other people on the ferry and thirty-two empty seats. A somewhat waste of fuel, in my opinion. Sumo Wrestling is playing on the television.

There is one last thing on Ainoshima Island, not mentioned in any guidebooks. Wasps. Giant wasps that chase you. I managed to take a photograph of one that was idling, a smaller wasp in comparison to others. I will admit though, I spent most of my time on the island either admiring the cats or running away from the wasps like a frightened rabbit.

As the ferry pulls away, Ainoshima Island becomes nothing more than a blur.

I leave Shima at twenty past four. I stick to main roads only and follow the signs for Fukuoka. As I leave, a bus marked Tenjin Station mocks me as it cruises by.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I visit far too many sightseeing spots in one day and almost lose my mind by clicking here.

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