Japan is a small island nation, but it’s not just an island. It’s an archipelago. An archipelago is an island group consisting of clusters of islands. Japan is comprised of 6,852 islands.
Of these, 430 are inhabited by people. The rest is home to a spectacular array of wildlife, exotic vegetation and landscapes of breathtaking beauty. And let’s face it, some of Japan’s lesser-known island are just plain weird — but also fabulous. Read on and you’ll soon see why.
Aoshima – Cat Island
Aoshima is just one mile long in the southern part of Japan in the Seti Inland Sea. Its human population consists of just six people, but Aoshima is home to 120 to 130 cats. Some estimates put the number as high as 210. That’s a 36 to 1 cat-to-human ratio. The cats were originally brought here to take care of rats and mice.
People come from all over to the world to visit this tiny cat kingdom where it seems like a cat is padding around on every square foot. Tourists play a major role in feeding the cats of Aoshima.
Okunoshima – Rabbit Island
If you think an island dominated by cats sounds cute, how about an island that is ruled by adorable, cuddly rabbits. That’s the case with Okunoshima Island located in the South Sea of Japan. It’s about 2.5 miles around and is overrun with more than a thousand wild rabbits.
Rabbits are not native to the island. They were brought there by scientists years ago for use in experiments in developing chemical weapons. Thankfully, that dark industry no longer exists on Okunoshima, but the researchers let a few rabbits go before they left. They multiplied. Now Okunoshima attracts more than 300,000 visitors every year. People love to play with these generally friendly, long-eared critters.
Hashima – Battleship Island
This tiny island is just 16 acres of land and is about nine miles south of Nagasaki. Hashima is jammed with abandoned industrial buildings making it an eerie ghost town. No one lives or works on Hashima today. The many structures crammed onto the 16 acres were built to support coal mining. Coal was abundant in Hashima and is one of the few locations in the world where seabed coal mining was done. Coal is no longer mined.
Visiting Hashima today is like walking the streets of a bizarre dystopian science fiction film. The many concrete buildings are empty, aging and some are collapsing. Others are being overtaken by vegetation and nature. Several tourist agencies provide guided tours of this nightmarish, forsaken island.
Naoshima – Art Island
Perhaps the exact opposite of the dreadful Hasima Island is Naoshima. This island is jam-packed with beautiful works of art. This small island of about 5.5 square miles is heavily populated with more than 3,000 people. The many museums on Naoshima are home to works of some of the greatest artists of all time, including Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, James Turrell and Walter De Maria.
There is even a James Bond museum because Naoshima was the setting for the Bond novel, The Man with the Red Tattoo. Fabulous outdoor sculpture gardens also grace this island in the Seto Inland Sea.
Teshima – Art Island 2.0
Like Naoshima, Teshima is another island of art. It’s also known for its luxury tours and excellent coffee shops. The world-famous Teshima Art Museum here is described as a “cosmic bubble” made of white concrete that appears to “bubble up from the ground.” It was designed by renowned architect Ryue Nishizawa. Visitors enter the museum through a narrow tunnel (after taking off their shoes) and are said to be “swallowed by a dream-like white universe” with running springs of water that trickle in delicate rivulets across the floor.