It goes without saying that I am one bona fide, crazy ailurophile. Fortunate to be surrounded by them from early childhood (I grew up with 8 cats and 6 dogs) to now, I find cats to be a never ending, hairy bundle of exquisite joy, who without exception, without hesitation, always send my grateful spirit soaring. Not for a single moment have I ever tasted boredom in their exalted company.
Cats, Cats, and more Cats!! They are everywhere in this feline fixated country we call Japan. Not only live, breathing ones like cute, irrepressible Japanese Bobtail with the pom-pom stunted tail or the rarest of all cats like the two reclusive Wild Leopard cat species found on Iriomote and Tsushima islands; Japan also has the iconic Hello Kitty. This fictional cat character with the ultra simple design minus the mouth, has been plastered over a mind boggling amount of different products that have captivated countless people from one end of the earth to the other for more than 40 years.
In addition, Japan has Doraemon, the bungling robotic cat comic book hero with no ears, featured in a famous manga series first created in 1969. Incredibly, an English language version released on Amazon in 2013 has sold more than 100 million copies. Don’t forget Maneki-Neko, the ever-present, good luck cat figurine beckoning us with a raised paw or two that blesses homes, businesses, and people from Okinawa to Hokkaido, plus a host of other countries as well.
Although Cat Cafes where you can watch, play with or caress a clowder of friendly felines over a cup of fresh coffee first originated in Taiwan, it took Japanese genius to make this new café theme concept a worldwide celebration of pure, unadulterated cat induced euphoria. Japan soon will have more than 150 of these cat coffee shop havens offering those cat lovers who don’t have the time or space for a pet the opportunity to reconnect, relax, or recharge in the presence of the regal creatures with the magical eyes that so bedazzle those who meet their hypnotic gaze.
Unbelievable though it may sound, Japan apparently has not only a couple of cat islands but a remarkable 12 of these cat sanctuaries. A recent explosion of worldwide media attention focused on one of them, Aoshima island in Ehime prefectural, where the charming cats far out number the few permanent residents, put this remote island on thousands of fanatical cat lover’s bucket lists. Equally as impressive is Tashirojima island not far from Sendai. Both islands are unique oases overflowing with many a tabby, tomcat, and tortoiseshell that light up the greenery, a most welcome respite for weary pilgrims looking for peace and tranquility.
Two other extraordinary cats, Maru and the recently departed jewel of a cat, Tama,must be mentioned in any serious discussion about Japanese cats. First, the very plump, always playful, and never give up Scottish fold, the adorable Maru, who has found no box he couldn’t get into, or at
least try to, was voted the most successful Internet cat over the past ten years with a jaw dropping 289 million views on YouTube. Tama, who passed away in the summer of 2015, was the lucky stray cat who grew up to become the first cat train station master. She was one of the mostbeloved and well known cats in this country, not surprising actually, as she was as cute as cute can be. Her divine presence brought in an incredible 10 million US dollars to the local community. At her funeral she was promoted to Goddess, a fitting tribute to an exceptional cat who gave so many so much joy and happiness. She will be missed.
Bobtail cats were also distinguished guests or focal points on numerous Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, ‘pictures from the floating world,’ which illustrated everyday life in Japan between the 17th and 19th centuries. One particular cat loving artist stands out, Kuniyoshi Utagawa. This multi-talented genius had a profound admiration and respect for cats which is obvious when you look at his striking portrayals of them.