Cat destinations

Photo: Stray Cat Hostel

This list of the world's most fascinating cat-related tourist destinations is dedicated to those who clearly belong in both camps.
Cat destinations: Tama the stationmaster at Kishi Station

Photo: Wikimedia

Kishi Station, Wakayama, Japan

Cats have served as mayors and run for the Senate, so it's not too far-fetched to witness one overseeing the daily operations of a train station, right?

That's exactly what one charismatic calico named Tama has been enlisted to do after being officially named station master of the Kishi station in the small town of Kinokawa. As the last stop on Wakayama's Kishigawa Line, the Kishi station never received much traffic until Tama came along and stole everyone's hearts.

Tama was born in April 1999 (yep, she's 15 years old!), and before being adopted by a station employee, she was raised with a lovable group of strays that hung out near the station. Today, she spends her time lounging and "greeting passengers" from inside her station master's "office." The station itself features cat-inspired architecture, a cat-decorated cafe and a souvenir shop that sells all kinds of Tama merchandise.

While the Kishi station is undeniably adorable, the themed trains that service the Kishigawa line take the cake. There are three of them — the strawberry train, the toy train and, of course, the Tama train, which features cat decor and plenty of kawaii drawings of everyone's favorite feline station master.

You can take a tour of the Tama train in the video below:

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Cat destinations: Ernest Hemingway's home of polydactyl cats

Photo: Rob Mercier, James Willamor/Flickr

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, Key West, Florida

Hemingway is well known for his Nobel-recognized literary works, but he's also known for his fondness for felines. To this day, descendants of the cats that his family once kept still roam the grounds of his Key West home, which was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1968.

What makes these kitties especially interesting is that about half of the colony are polydactyl, which means they are born with extra toes on their paws. Feline polydactylism is an inherited genetic trait that appears in cat populations located on the eastern coast of the U.S. and Canada, or in Wales and southwestern England. Hemingway's large population of polydactyl cats started with a single six-toed kitty that was given to the famous author by a ship captain.

Check out the video below to see a polydactyl cat in action:

There was a time when the care of these special felines was in question. Concerned museum visitors helped spark federal litigation regarding the welfare of the animals, and the private, for-profit museum was ordered to implement measures to care for the animals, which involves tagging, providing shelter and maintaining a selective breeding program.

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Cat destinations: Largo di torre

Photos: Wikimedia

Largo di Torre Argentina, Rome, Italy

This ruined square is widely considered to be the site of Julius Caesar's assassination, but that's not the only reason it's famous. After Largo di Torre Argentina was rediscovered and excavated in 1929, it didn't take long for throngs of Rome's famously feral felines to take up residence within the archaelogical treasure.

There are now more than 250 cats currently living in or around the site, and tourists and local cat enthusiasts flock to watch them sunbathe and socialize amongst the ruins:

In response to the growing feline population, a nearby no-kill shelter called Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary does its best to keep up with the care of these charming kitties, from tending to sick or wounded individuals to organizing trap-neuter-release programs.

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Cat destinations: Lucky Cat Museum

Photos courtesy of Micha Robertson/Lucky Cat Museum

Lucky Cat Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio

You may know of these adorable feline figurines as Lucky Cats, though their proper Japanese name is Maneki-neko ("beckoning cat"). Much like Japan's iconic wealth-bringing tanuki statues, it's common to see Maneki-nekos displayed in restaurants and stores, where they're believed to beckon good luck, fortune and customers.

One of the largest personal collections of Maneki-neko can be found at the Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. The founder and owner, Micha Robertson, has amassed a truly spectacular number (over 700!) of these figurines over the years, and more are added all the time.

Although the museum is only open a few weekends a year or by appointment, if you happen to be in the Cincinnati area on National Cat Day (Oct. 29), you'll be excited to hear that the collector will be opening up the space to the public from noon until 5 p.m. If you can't make it, don't fret! Here's a quick video tour of the museum to tide you over until you can finally see this wondrous collection in person: 

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Cat destinations: Cat café

Photos: MsSaraKelly, panda073, Connie Ma/Flickr

Cat cafés

Bastions of furry felines and warm beverages have taken off since the world's first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998. These themed cafés allow patrons to kick back with a cup of tea and indulge in some much-needed cat therapy.

Cat cafés are especially popular in Japan — there are at least 39 cat cafés in Tokyo alone. The reason for their popularity is the prevalence of urban living situations that restrict or limit pet ownership. People who are unable to keep their own feline friend turn to these cafés to simulate some of the stress-relieving benefits of owning a cat.

If you've never visited a cat café, check out the video below, which gives a guided tour of what to expect when visiting two of Japan's most popular spots:

If you're in North America and hoping to visit one of these cat paradises, then you're in luck! Several cat cafés recently opened in Canada and the United States, including Montréal's Le Café Des Chats and Cat Town Café in Oakland, California.

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Cat destinations: Houtong cat village

Photo: Mark Knobil, Nisa yeh, Dickson Phua/Flickr

Houtong Cat Village, Taiwan

This small coal mining village in Taiwan's Rueifang District has been in decline since the early '90s, but residents now benefit from an entirely new industry: Cat tourism! The large number of stray cats that hang out around the village's train station has become a major draw for tourists in the past few years.

In response to the new influx of visitors, local residents are able to make a living by selling souvenirs and cat-shaped pastries. The town is still quite dilapidated and has a long way to go, but Houtong has already undergone several beautification projects, including a feline-inspired renovation of the train station.

While there may be strays, nearby residents (and fascinated tourists) do their best to make sure the animals are well-fed, as you can see in the video below!

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Cat destinations: El Gato de Tejada

Photo: David Mora/Flickr

Parque El Gato de Tejada, Cali, Colombia

This brilliant, red cat sculpture was gifted to the city of Cali by the late artist Hernando Tejada, who lived in Cali from the age of 14 until his death in 1998. Made of bronze and weighing 3 tons, the sculpture was part of a plan to spruce up the banks of the Cali River.

In 2006, a set of 15 smaller cat sculptures were installed alongside the Tejada sculpture. Each of the new, smaller statues (which you can see a little bit in the background of the photo above) were hand-painted by local artists.

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Cat destinations: Poezenboot

Photos: Wikimedia

De Poezenboot, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cats have a long-held aversion to all things wet, but they seem to be doing just fine at Amsterdam's famous animal shelter on the water, De Pozenboot (literally "cat boat" in Dutch).

The buoyant cat sanctuary was founded in 1966 by passionate cat lady Henriette can Weelde, who thought, "if people could live on houseboats lining the canals, why not cats?" On its journey to serve abandoned and stray cats, this quirky refuge quickly became an international tourist attraction.

The sanctuary has gone through multiple boats, but the current barge can hold up to 50 cats. While most of these kitties are available to be adopted, there are a few permanent residents that serve as mascots and faithful friends to the volunteers.

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Cat destinations: Stray Cat Hostel, Istanbul

Photos courtesy of Stray Cat Hostel

Stray Cat Hostel, Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is famous for its stray cats (and dogs!), so it only make sense that there is a hostel inspired by these feline street characters.

The Stray Cat Hostel opened up in 2010 as a place for weary travelers and kitties alike to rest their heads. There is no shortage of friendly, whiskered faces roaming the hostel's common areas and courtyard, so if you're feeling homesick for the kitty you left at home, this is definitely the place for you!

Learn more about the hostel in the video below:

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Cat destinations: Kuching the cat city

Photos: Wikimedia, Jon Robson/Flickr

Kuching, Malaysia

The name "Kuching" is similar to the Malay word for cat ("kucing"), so it's easy to understand why so many refer to this destination as Cat City. Whether the city's name is inspired by cats or not, the people of Kuching embrace the cat association, and as a result, there are tons of cat references all around the city.

There is even a cat museum that opened in 1993 and currently contains thousands of cat-related artifacts and memorabilia acquired from Kuala Lumpur's National Museum. Just by looking at the entrance of the museum (above, right), you can tell it's a campy place to explore!

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Cat destinations: Tashirojima, Japan

Photos: Kakei.R, id:takefumi/Flickr

The cat islands of Japan

Of course, this list isn't complete without the Japanese islands that are famous for having more cats than humans. There are two neko-shima ("cat islands" in Japanese) in the country: Aoshima in the Miyazaki prefecture and Tashirojima in the Miyagi prefecture.

Tashirojima is perhaps the most well-known, and has been the subject of much press and subsequent tourist attention. The town once boasted a population of 1,000, but after a mass exodus post-World War I, the current population stands at around 100 people — 83 percent of whom are older than 65. As the island's human population dwindles, the cat population continues to grow. Cats were originally kept on the island to help control the population of mice, which liked to eat silkworms used to produce silk for fishing nets. A shrine honoring the cats and their help was built in the middle of the island, further cementing this cat paradise. Today, cats can be found everywhere on the island, and much of the island's industry involves some kind of tourism.

Aoshima ("blue island" in Japanese) is even more sparsely populated than Tashirojima — only 16 humans live permanently on the island, while hundreds of cats roam the streets. It's lesser known than Tashirojima, but as you can see in the video below, it's flush with felines!

Did we miss any awesome cat-related-tourist spots? Let us know in the comments!

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.

11 quirky travel destinations for cat people
For some folks, traveling is a way of life. For others, obsessing over cats is a way of life. This list is for those who fall into both camps.