Tsushima is an island located in between Kyushu, Japan, and South Korea. It is part of the Japanese prefecture Nagasaki.Its closeness to the Korean Pennisula led to it playing a role in major historical events in Japan. It was the site of the first invasion by the Mongols in 1274. The island was captured but thanks to a storm, many ships in the Mongol fleet were destroyed forcing them to retreat. The popular action video game Ghost of Tsushima is set during this invasion of Tsushima. There was a second invasion attempt in 1281 but were again repelled thanks to freak weather, this time it was a great Typhoon or a Kamikaze in Japanese. Tsushima was also a major trading center with Korea and Wokou(Japanese pirates) who would raid the coasts of China and Korea. Nowadays, Korea is still important to the islanders, as Koreans make up the vast majority of tourism to the island. Thanks to the high speed ferry in Busan, Korean tourists can arrive in Tsushima in less than 2 hours.

90% of the island is covered in ancient forests and is mountainous. Its closeness to the Asian continent, mountain forests, and relative isolation has allowed unique flora and fauna to be present here. For instance, Japanese Honey Bee and traditional Japanese beekeeping is still going strong here while on the mainland traditional beekeeping is more rare. There are many endemic species here such as Tsushima Marten,Tsushima Island Pitviper, and the most famous of all, the Tsushima Leopard Cat.

Aso Bay in Tsushima
Photo from Saigen Jiro via Wikimedia Commons

Tsushima Leopard Cat

The island of Tsushima became world-famous thanks to the game, Ghost of Tsushima. There is in fact a real ghost on the island, the Tsushima Leopard cat. They are rarely seen as they are active at night and keeps their distance from humans. Instead, we can see their presence in what they leave behind, foot prints and feces.They prey primarily on mice but will eat birds and insects as well. They are the same size as a house cat but they have stripes on the middle of forehead and rounded ears with a white spot on the back. Tsushima Leopard Cats are feautured in the Ghost of Tsushima`s Director Cut and they along with other wildlife can be pet and tamed.

Tsushima Leopard Cat
From A machun via wikicommons

They might soon be ghosts in a more literal sense soon as car collisions and loss of habitat have made Tsushima leopard cats critically endangered. According to a 2013 survey by the environmental ministry, there were between 70-100 cats on the islands. It is one of only two species of wild cats in Japan, the other being the Iriomote cat in Okinawa. They are both subspecies of leopard cats, live on isolated islands, and are critically endangered. 

There are current conservation measures being taken to take the species such as raising awareness amongst drivers, conducting research to learn more about the species, and breeding them in captivity. The last one has been successful with 27 kittens being born under the conservation program. But with so little known about them, care for them is difficult. This is evident in this article about a man in Tsushima who kept a Tsushima Leopard cat for 15 years and instead of punishing him for keeping an endangered animal, officials wanted his advice for how to keep Tsushima Leopard Cats alive for so long in captivity. If you want to visit Tsushima, you likely will not see a Tsushima Leopard Cat in the while but you can still learn all about them in the Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center.

Tsushima Leopard Cat raised at Fukuoka Zoo and Botanical Garden
By Pontafon via wikicommons

Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center (TWCC)

The Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center provides information about the Tsushima Leopard Cat and other flora and fauna present on the island. The center also does research and monitoring of endangered Tsushima wildlife.

Here you can see what very few people have had the opportunity to see a Tsushima Leopard Cat, and what’s even rarer is that you can see on the island of Tsushima. There is a large enclosure that houses a Tsushima Leopard Cat that visitors can look at and hopefully come home with a newfound appreciation of the cute wild cat. By being able to actually see this endangered cat, hopefully, people will be inspired to do more to prevent it from extinction. This works for locals as well, the Tsushima cat brings in tourism which incentivizes locals to be mindful of them while driving and to protect their habitat.

Tsushima Cat at the Conservation Center
Photo from Discovery Nagasaki


Currently closed due to Covid

To get to Tsushima and you can take a ferry(5 hours)/jetfoil(2 hours) from Fukuoka Hakata port or a 1.5-hour Jetfoil(high-speed boat) from Busan, Korea. There are also 30-minute flights to Tsushima airport from Nagasaki Airport and Fukuoka airport. A car is essential for getting around in Tsushima. Here is more comprehensive information about how to get to Tsushima.

It is a 35-minute drive from Hitakatsu port to the conversation center. It’s an almost 2-hour drive from Izuhara port.

Hours: 10 am- 4:30 pm
Holidays: Closed on Mondays(If a Monday is a national holiday it will be closed on Tuesday instead) and December 29th-January 3rd.
Admission: Free

4 thoughts on “The Real Ghost of Tsushima- The Tsushima Leopard Cat

  1. I want one! They look absolutely lovely with their 3 forehead stripes and that long bushy tail really sets them off. Yes, I can see one curled up on my settee or taking over my house – as they do. I didn’t know about these creatures so thank you for the post and increasing my knowledge of these animals.

    1. They are really cute and look quite similar to a house cat . Thank you, I am happy when people learn more about animals especially the endangered ones.

  2. Great post! They remind me of the Norwegian forest cats. I’m also a gamer. Open world RPGs are my favorite and this is a great game! I had to cancel my 2020 trip to Yellowstone NP, USA due to Covid-19, but at least I can still visit it in the game Horizon Zero Dawn. I just have to avoid getting attacked by mechanical dinosaurs. Hahaha.

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