Okishima Island – Ōmihachiman-shi, Japan - Atlas Obscura
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Ōmihachiman-shi, Japan

Okishima Island

A Japanese cat island also populated by the descendants of a band of banished samurai. 

Okishima Island is the only inhabited island within Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake and one of the oldest lakes in the world. It’s also one of the country’s cat islands, and the furry felines roaming the lakefront are usually happy to greet any visitors who come ashore.

The island is so full of cats it’s sometimes called the “Town of Cats.” You can expect to find the cats lounging around the docks or snacking on a fish they’ve plucked from the “Inland Sea.” But the animals aren’t the only intriguing inhabitants on the island.

According to local history, the roughly 400 people who call the island home are descended from a group of exiled samurai. During the 12th century, seven samurai were defeated in battle near Kyoto. They fled with their families to Okishima and remained in hiding on the island. As the years wore on, the samurai and their families seemed to fade from memory and were able to peacefully form their own little village.

Centuries later, and many of their descendants still remain on the island. Most of the island’s current residents have one of seven surnames believed to be traced back to the escaped warriors. The majority of the locals earn their living from fishing the lake, making the island a rare freshwater fishing hub within Japan.

Now, the island is a peaceful place with a quiet, serene atmosphere. Narrow streets wind through lush greenery and lead to lookouts with prime vistas of the lake.

Know Before You Go

The closest train station is Omihachiman. From Omihachiman, buses take the 30-minute route to Horikiri New Port. Small ferries depart from Horikiri to Okishima Island 11 times per day on weekdays. The one-way ferry fare is 500 yen and the trip takes about 10 minutes.