January 18, 2017KR BlogUncategorized

Cats in Japan

I swore to my wife that I wouldn’t buy any cat stuff during our honeymoon in Japan. I only bought one cat thing on my first three-week solo trip to Japan two years earlier. It was a small cat statue. This time, I broke my vow and bought tons of cat statues, cat stationary, cat fabric, two different t-shirts with cat faces on them, pens and notebooks featuring cats, and a can of Japanese cat food originally meant as a gag gift, but I grew to like it too much to give away. The list goes on, but it’s getting embarrassing.

Besides the feline mementos, there were the experiences: I dragged us to a distant rural train station outside a city we would have otherwise never gone to in order to see a cat named Nitama who lives at the station. They call him the Stationmaster Cat. People make pilgrimages to see Nitama. He lounges in a glass box in the window during visiting hours. People get off the train, crowd around him, ooh and ahh and take pictures, then they eat matcha ice cream in the Nitama Cafe. Visitors like me spend more time in the gift shop than we do looking at Nitama. I’m forty-one years old. Clearly I’ve lost my mind.

Here’s a photo of Rebekah and me at the station, dressed up as Nitama.


Here’s another photo of me outside a Kyoto cat cafe.





The fourteen-dollar price was too steep to actually go inside for sixty minutes, but the view from the window was deeply satisfying. So were the cat head coasters that I didn’t but should’ve bought.


In the words of my Japanese buddy Doobie: “Cats! Too many cats!”

The history of cats in Japan is rich and deep. Unfortunately, I have nothing more to offer than this grand, obvious pronouncement because I’ve done zero research into that history. I can offer my own experience, which itself is limited and surely less interesting. And I can say that cats prowl the books of Haruki Murakami. The protagonist in Kafka on the Shore compulsively pets cats. A lost cat drives the plot of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami wrote a whole story named “Town of Cats” and an essay called “On the Death of My Cat,” which is like saying whiskey appears in Faulkner’s stories.

A car drove past me the other day with a “Crazy Cat Lady” sticker on the back. I felt a deep kinship with this person, even though I no longer live with a cat of my own. We have a dog.

dscn0800But I still love cats and all the supposed craziness around them. I love going into our basement and seeing the Japanese cat tapestry hanging from the wall above my guitar amp. I love sitting down at my writing desk each morning and seeing the two Japanese porcelain cat statues that rest on a bookend there: one is sleeping, one is standing staring at me. And I love the small plastic cat that lays flat on its back so you can rest your chopsticks on his belly. (When I’m not eating, I hang this cat from the edge of a Suntory highball mug by his paws.)

20160908_091853Rebekah and I eat ice cream and yogurt out of two matching cat bowls we bought in a tiny kawai shop in old Kyoto. The simple blue line drawings of cat tails and faces emerge through the melting pool of cream as we eat. It’s like a disappearing pen in reverse. The world is more fun with cats.

In Japan, we found entire shelves full of cat items. Since I couldn’t buy them all, I photographed them:


Here’s a random sign in Osaka saying something profound but confusing about cats.



Here’s a department store toy dispenser filled with hats for cats.


In another Kyoto store, I took a photo of Rebekah shopping with a display of cat stationary in the foreground. The display had a sign that said “Cat Life.” As one of my Japanese cat shirts says under the image of a cat in sunglasses: “Elusive Feline.” Not elusive enough. dscn0807Cats found their way into nearly every room in my house, and those are just the fake ones.

Back in Oregon, the actual neighborhood cats come to crap in our backyard. They patrol the planters early in the morning while we sleep or get ready for work. They scratch around in the fresh top soil we laid in our plant beds, and we find their little dried up fur-filled turds between the ferns and hydrangea—”Assholes,” we grumble. Whenever I see them from my home office, I rip open the window to shoo them off. Between all the poop and pawing around, you’d think I’d be trying to get rid of the cats in my life. Instead, I keep inviting them in. Cats can be such assholes. But animals bring joy, so in my life, all are welcome, even the jerks.

I recently visited my parents back in Arizona, and I sent Rebekah a photo of their cat Red snoozing on the bed with the caption: “Big lazy lump.”

She wrote back: “Worthless cat.”

“Lazy worthless lump,” I wrote. Then I pet him while talking in a baby voice. Rebekah would have done the same.

In Japanese, cats meow by going nyaa nyaa. So Nyaa nyaa nyaa dear cat. Purrrrr on.