The Cats of Japan

December 7, 2012 | Tita

Comments (4)

I love travel almost as much as I love cats and I often spend my vacations looking for cats, missing my own cats or generally checking out how other countries treat all their animals (sadly, not well – companion animals, like other animals, are mistreated, abused or ignored in every country on the planet if my forays to five continents so far are any indication).

The logo for a major delivery company in Japan.

My recent trip to Japan was a surprise in that I had no idea that Japan was so cat-crazy (in retrospect, Hello Kitty and the number of cats in anime and manga should’ve been a clue). Cats on clothing (don’t ask how many items I bought), in advertising, in books and magazines, in logos (even companies which have nothing to do with cats like one of Japan’s major delivery services) -– cat images are everywhere. I did not see a lot of stray cats in Japan, and almost all that I did see sported that telltale ear notch indicating that they’d been TNRed (trapped, neutered and released, a world-wide volunteer program to sterilize the local stray and feral cat population) much to my relief. No need to carry cat food and fresh water around in this country.

People who can't have their own cats because of financial or space considerations can pay to play with resident cats in 'cat cafes'.

Now back in cold, cold Canada, I continue to explore the theme of cats in Japan -– the library catalogue has tonnes! One doesn’t have to read Japanese thankfully; books including Days of Cats in Tokyo aka Tokyo  – neko moyo have lots of beautiful photos (dare I say kitty porn?) to enjoy. (And given all the clicks and comments on my last blog post, “Let’s Make Every Day Black Cat Appreciation Day”, clearly I’m not the only ailurophile using the library website.)


There are lots of choices for young people –- cats are the main characters in many Japanese folktales including Two Foolish Cats, a story about greed and cooperation  and Three Samurai Cats, a tale of patience, surprise and using time to allow one’s opponent to defeat himself. The Beckoning Cat recounts how the ubiquitous Maneki Neko also known as Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat, or Money Cat became such a common Japanese figurine in local stores and restaurants. The Boy Who Drew Cats  recreates another centuries-old Japanese legend on the beauty and power of art.

Poster advising of TNR program and the significance of ear notch.

For young adults, there’s Mysterious Tales of Japan which offers another interpretation of “The Boy Who Drew Cats.” And of course there’s lots of manga and anime. Baron the Cat Returns will entertain young teens and older teens and adults will enjoy Tekkonkinkreet, the book. Tekkonkinkreet collects the stories of Black and White, two orphan vigilantes who roam their fictional city in Japan righting wrongs while still having fun. While the human characters Black and White are known as the Cats, the stories also feature the four-legged variety of cats who stroll the alleys or take a more active role in the skirmishes. Compare the book to the anime/DVD version made a few years later. You can even learn how to draw your own cool cat-girls with Manga Mania Chibi and Furry Characters.

Not a fan of manga but still looking for your Japanese fix? No worries -- even the set-in-Iowa book, Dewey, the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World includes a chapter where Japanese Public Television makes a visit to film this real-life world-famous cat for a documentary on cats. If you’re more into science fiction/fantasy, check out Fudoki, the story of a woman who takes the form of a small tortoiseshell cat (torties being a personal favourite) on a kami, or spirit road. Her family has been destroyed and this loss renders her taleless, but the only one left alive to pass on stories of her clan.

Lots to choose from at a Japanese bookstore.

And now for something completely different, of course look no further than your library. Only from Japan would one find a book called Crafting with Cat Hair; Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat. “A handful of your cat’s hair and a few simple supplies are all you need to make and decorate finger puppets, change purses, knickknack boxes, badges, kitty portraits and more.” Complete with detailed instructions, a list of resources and more kitty porn, you and your sweetie can craft away. Fur balls anyone?