Cats are often the stuff of legend–they embody mysticism. It is no wonder that cats have been culturally significant for many nations. Their relationship with and influence on humans is as old as civilization itself and can be traced back to over 9,500 years.
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 cat-and-human relationships scattered throughout Japan.
Tashirojima Island in Ishinomaki City is located in the eastern city of Sendai called Cat Sand Island. Cats come to pick up boats at the port. Many cats patiently wait around the fishing port for fishermen to return.
Neko-jinja or cat temple is located in the central area of the island and it enshrines a cat- god with the hope of catching good and safe for fishermen. Cats have been worshiped as gods for several hundred years when people began to predict the results of cat-based fishing. Tashirojima Island was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but many cats survived, evacuating to the area around Neko-jinja.
Aoshima island in Shikoku area is also called cat island. The catch phrase of this island is 15 residents and 100 cats and cats’ paradise. They said that 10 years ago, when the island’s population fell below 50, the number of cats began to increase. The biggest attraction of Aoshima is that you can be extremely close to cats. The island has recently become increasingly popular as a tourist destination, especially cat lovers.
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.
Cat-themed goods, you would want to buy for your friends and yourself
“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!