Japanese people and cats in good harmony
Japanese people have had a long relationship with cats. More than 1000 years ago, people in the upper class were already living with cats. Common people also started having pet cats at home several hundred years ago and Japanese people have been involved with cats in a variety of ways since then. There are shrines that worship cats as gods across Japan and cats have also played a part in folk beliefs through the ages.
The extent to which Japanese people have been involved with cats is evident from the volume of artworks that depict cats as the main subject. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Ukiyoe virtuosos Hiroshige Utagawa and Kuniyoshi Utagawa painted cats, and in the Meiji period (1868-1912）, the great novelist Soseki Natsume wrote the novel “I Am a Cat”, which became a famous masterpiece of Japanese literature. Even nowadays you can find examples, such as the famous character “Hello Kitty” the cute anthropomorphic cat, and “Krocchi” a stray cat character that has recently started to become popular. Cats have been loved by Japanese people through the ages.
Places that show traces of the relationship between cats and people are scattered throughout Japan.
Tashirojima Island in Ishinomaki City located east of Sendai City is known as the ‘Cat Island’. Cats come to welcome the boats at the port. Many cats wait patiently around the fishing port for fishermen to return.
Neko-jinja or the cat shrine is located in the central area of the island and it enshrines a “cat god” in hope of a good catch and safety of the fishermen. Cats have been worshiped as gods for several hundred years when people began forecasting the outcome of fishing based on cats’ behavior. Tashirojima Island was damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but many of the cats survived, evacuating to the area around Neko-jinja.
Aoshima Island in Shikoku area is also known as a cat island. The catch-phrase of this island is “15 residents and 100 cats, the cat paradise”. They say that 10 years ago when the population of the island went below 50, the number of cats started to increase. The biggest appeal of Aoshima Island is that you can have an extremely close contact with cats. The island has recently become increasingly popular as a tourist spot, especially among cat lovers.
Day trips to the island are recommended since there are no accommodation or restaurants in Aoshima. There is a passenger boat which makes the 45-minute ride twice a day to Aoshima from Nagahama port in Ozu City, Ehime prefecture located at the west end of Shikoku island. There is a limit to the number of passengers since the boat is used for the islanders’ daily use and therefore there is a chance you may not be able to board. There are also no stores or vending machines on the island, so please make sure you take food and drinks when you visit.
“Of course, you can also see cats in the city. In Yanaka, a cat town in Tokyo reasonably close to Ueno Park, you can see cats living freely in the city.
You can feel the old atmosphere of Japan in Yanaka Ginza, a shopping street that has kept their old streets and atmosphere. The cats living there also add to the view of the town. Shopping there is also a fun experience for cat-lovers because Yanaka Ginza has many shops selling cat-themed goods.”
Do you want to play with cats? Try going to a “Cat Café”.
If you get some spare time during your trip, why not experience a “Cat Café”? Cat Cafés are cafés where you can spend time playing with a variety of cats.
This time, we visited the “Calico Shinjuku Shop”, located just 5-minutes from Shinjuku Station. We were amazed at how close we were to the cats. There were about 30 cats roaming around freely in the café.
There is an album that shows the name and personality of each cat (in Japanese and English), so you can call a cat you like by their name. You can also feed them if you pay a fee. They say that the most popular food among these finicky cats is chicken tenderloin (¥300). The whole experience of being surrounded by cats and being able to play with them freely will surely make any cat-lover extremely happy.
The staff at Calico take very good care of the cats’ health, but if you notice any cats not feeling well, please let the staff know immediately. Do not do anything that makes the cats uncomfortable such as picking them up by force. Please also note that children 12 years old and under cannot enter the café.
Calico Shinjuku Shop
Address: Fuji Building 5/6F (Entrance 6F), 1-16-2 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Open: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm (Last call 9:15 pm, open 7 days a week)
Note: Cash only accepted
Access: 5-min walk from Shinjuku Station
Cat-themed goods, you would want to buy for your friends and yourself
For those cat-lovers who want a little more than just playing with cats, let us introduce some of the unique spots where you can buy cat-themed goods.
“Nyankodo” in Jinbocho, approximately 10-minute train ride away from Tokyo Station, is a book store that collects only cat-themed books. They carry books related to cats published all over the world including photo books, literature, picture books, story books and comics. They also have books on Kuniyoshi Utagawa, a world-famous Ukiyoe painter and a photo collection of Mitsuaki Iwago, a wildlife photographer. You will surely find your favorite book here.
“Maneki-neko”, the beckoning or welcoming cat, is best known in Japan as a lucky charm said to bring business success. Cats used to be a lucky charm in the silk industry long ago as they get rid of crops eating rats and silkworms. They became popular as a lucky charm to increase business. It is believed that a cat with a beckoning paw has the power to bring in more people.
According to a legend, Gotokuji Temple, located approximately 10-minutes from Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu Line in Tokyo, is the birthplace of Maneki-neko. Enshrined on one corner of the temple are a number of Maneki-neko that were donated by those whose wishes came true. There are several kinds of Maneki-neko, ranging from the small ones that cost several hundred yen to big ones that cost as much as 5,000 yen. This is a perfect souvenir for your family and friends. I bet you can almost see the smile on their faces now!