Why do cats in Japan have such mythical powers? (2023)

Why do cats in Japan have such mythical powers? (1)

Problem with T's trip

A journey to a land where cats are revered, respected and sometimes considered real demons.

ceramicsManeki Neko, or "welcome cats," at Gotokuji, a temple dedicated to them in Tokyo's Setagaya district. Visitors buy the figurines, write wishes on them and place them on the shelves.Credit...Kyoko Hamada

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

  • Send each friend a story

    As a subscriber, you have10 gift itemsthey give every month. Everyone can read what you share.

VonNur Yanagihara

his photosKyoko Hamada

It was Christmas and I wanted to visit the most miserable place in the world, an island called Aoshima, about 800 kilometers southwest of Tokyo in the Seto Inland Sea, the body of water that separates three of Japan's main islands: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. . Four years ago, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that Aoshima, which is less than 0.2 square miles in size, had six human residents, all elderly, and an unknown number of cats—certainly hundreds, though no one knew exactly how many. . There are no restaurants or inns in Aoshima. The only way to get there is a 35-minute ferry ride that departs twice daily from the port city of Nagahama in Shikoku, an hour's drive southwest of where my friend Mihoko and I lived—a medium-sized town called Matsuyama. which was the home of a powerful daimyo or ruler in the Edo period (1603-1867) and is best known today for its orange production.

In recent days, there have been strong gusts of wind across the country (at the Tokyo airport, I heard an announcement for a flight to Fukuoka: "Please understand that the plane may have to return to Tokyo due to the wind"). and when Mihoko called the port to confirm that the ferry would depart on time, the harbormaster informed her that the combination of snow and wind had caused unusually strong currents, meaning that the ferry, which was operating that day, was canceled and he couldn't. to drive earlier will also be canceled today. "Is it tomorrow?" Michoko asked. "I really can't say," said the harbor master. "Maybe, maybe not," which is a very Japanese answer.


Why do cats in Japan have such mythical powers? (2)

Problem with T's trip

three authorsgo to extremeswith journeys to the driest, darkest and most corrupt places on Earth.

-Hello Kitty:EmJapan, cats are revered, respected and sometimes considered real devils. What is the root of your mythic power?

-visible darkness:After the sun is goneSvalbard, Norway, you start seeing strange things in the polar night.

-dust to dust:What a trip forAtacama Desert in Chile– one of the driest places on Earth – reveals a lot about life and death.

I was upset. I came to Shikoku just to see an island full of cats, take lots of photos and show them to my cat-loving friends. I liked to imagine how jealous they were. Mihoko was also disappointed - she went to the supermarket next to our hotel and bought a heavy bag of cat food and some cat treats, which she now had to take back to Tokyo and feed to her own cat, Muncheetah, instead .

"Don't worry," said Mihoko, who is also a magazine editor and quickly went into rescue mode. "There are many places in Japan where you can see cats."

“But I wanted to seeto becats,” I whined.

“You don't need to see thisto becats,” said Michoko. "Aoshima isn't the only place in the country that has lots of cats." By this time we had dinner: my desperation had stopped at brunch at an American-style cafe, a variety no longer found in America that became popular here after the occupation. visit to Matsuyama Castle (built in 1627), one of the twelve surviving castles in Japan. a stop at an orange juice bar (where you can order juice from several local varieties, some sweet, some sour). and, finally, dinner at a restaurant where we both ordered gyu, thin slices of marinated grilled meat, served rare over rice with roasted burdock root and leeks. While I mumbled and talked about the gods and the weather and the harbor master all day, Mihoko patiently pointed out the cats - here was one licking each other near a makeshift shrine. was someone who glared at us - and fed me trivia: Natsume Soseki, perhaps Japan's greatest modern writer and author of I Am a Cat (1906), a satire of early 20th-century society narrated by a cat , who had once taught English to high school students in Matsuyama. We had already seen cookies with his face on them in a gift shop.


Why do cats in Japan have such mythical powers? (3)

The next day (no ferry) we returned to Tokyo, where Mihoko and I spent the night texting each other about cats in Japan and finding out if there were any easy ways to get to any of the country's ten other cat islands or the Japan theme cat in Japan. cat parks or sanctuaries, mostly located in the west. However, it was too far for a train ride and the persistent wind made their approach unpredictable.

I could feel my desperation starting to confuse Michoko. for them Japanthisshe was obsessed with cats. Eventually, cats were so essential to the country that cat cafes became popular, where you can have a coffee and spend time with cats for a fee. So who needed Aoshima when you could find happiness here in Tokyo? Who needs to travel to an island full of cats when you've already been to an island full of cats? Being in Japan means being surrounded by cats: you just had to figure it out.

LIKE MANY THINGS that the Japanese considered entirely their own—tempura, cherry, and miso, for example—the cat was imported. Scholar Tadaaki Imaizumi suggests that the first cat arrived in the 6th century, a Silk Road innovation that came from India via China (other historians suggest it arrived via Korea). One can imagine that the cat was immediately used in one form or another: Japan was for centuries a largely agricultural country and, on a farm or barn, a cat would be prized for its ability to scare off mice. But Japan was also a court culture, and a cat would have entertained the ladies of the palace, who would have been delighted to see it do all the things cats have done since the beginning of their species - jump, jump, slither, play, clean.

In the 14th century, the cat appeared in several seminal texts, such as "the pillow bookby Sei Shonagon, 'The Tale of Genji' and 'Tsurezuregusa' by Kenko. (The cat even contributes to an important plot point in Genji. As he leaves, he closes a shutter, allowing a courtier to see the young princess from behind and fall hopelessly in love.) Cats also seem like meaningful or literary scenes before works of later periods, especially Edo and Meiji (1868-1912): 1857 print by Utagawa Hiroshige"Rice fields in Asakusa, visiting the shrine at Tori-No-Machi”, a popular image in the Hundred Famous Views of Edo, shows a fat white cat looking out of a window, its back to the viewer. Like her owner, a courtesan—evidenced by the fine lacquered hair ornaments tucked into a handkerchief on the floor—is both pampered and enchanted. adored but captive.

The country's two most enduring feline icons were born centuries apart. Hello Kitty, created as a cartoon character in 1974, became the ambassador of the first wavekawaiiCulture, her image is printed on erasers, aprons and napkins and sent all over the world (according to the official story of her origin, Hello Kitty does not even live in Japan, but in a suburb of London and, according to her creator, he's a human, not a cat). But long before she or her cartoon predecessor, Doraemon, a blue, earless, smiling robot cat, there wasManeki Nekoor "welcome cat".

Maneki Neko is an empty-eyed cat figurine - usually white, often ceramic, its expression inscrutable but gentle - with a bell around its neck and a paw raised near its ear as if in greeting. You've probably already found one at your local Japanese restaurant. In Japan they are so ubiquitous that after a while the eye loses sight of them. A few days after returning from Matsuyama, I met Mihoko on a trip to Setagaya, a district in western Tokyo where there was an Edo-era temple, Gotokuji, dedicated to Maneki Neko.

It was a clear, cloudless, cold day as the city tends to be in December, and the part of Setagaya we passed through the station resembled the patchwork character of Tokyo today. Unlike London or New York, most of the buildings here are post-war, unpretentious and simple, built during the country's great economic recovery after the capital was leveled by bombing. In almost any neighborhood in central Tokyo, you can walk down an avenue of skyscrapers and suddenly find yourself on a more suburban street full of two-story houses with upside-down carts at the entrance and hedges of camellia bushes. waxed and polished, crows the size of roosters that roost on a lotus and whose harsh, unsettling cries form one of the town's soundtracks.


After 15 minutes of walking, we reached a high stone wall that surrounded the temple and took up almost an entire city block. In addition to being a temple, Gotokuji is also the burial place of Naosuke II, a minister who served the Tokugawa shogunate. But it is more connected with a legend: the temple was once small and poor and the monk who supervised it took care of its maintenance. He had no food, but what he had he shared with his cat, who was devoted to him. One day, the monk said to the cat, "If you want to help me, bring some luck to the temple."

A few months later, a group of samurai approached the temple. They told the monk they were passing by when they saw their cat waving at them. Surprised they entered the place where the monk served them tea. While they rested, he sang. When the samurai heard the chants, they were moved to hear the way of the Buddha and donate land and money to the temple so that others could experience what they had. When the cat died shortly after, the monk decided to honor it and the happiness it had brought to the temple. Thus Maneki Neko was born and this temple honors him. End.

(That's the story in the information brochure the temple hands out to visitors, but "it's not the story I heard," Mihoko said. "The storyEUIt was heard that one day a group of travelers were passing by a temple. It started to rain and they noticed a cat waving at them. They ran to the temple and were able to find shelter there, and therefore the maneki neko is a sign of good luck and hospitality.")


Anyone who has been to Japan knows that almost every neighborhood in every city has at least one Buddhist temple and one Shinto. Most of these places are unpretentious: a neat courtyard and the dark main building open only on New Year's Day. But some are rich: their gardens are manicured, their trees are pruned, their bamboo fences are fresh and green. Gotokuji is a rich temple. In the middle of the central pedestrian street we find a large and impressive iron censer with iido not, or family crest, an orange blossom, stamped in gold in base. It's rich because, for decades, cat-loving pilgrims have come here to make donations and ask for good luck, and because (like many other smart temples) it sells irresistible wares in the form of ceramic maneki neko, which come in five different sizes. The tallest was about a foot; the smallest, barely an inch.

The temple has a series of shelves to store the thousands of maneki-neko that visitors have bought, written their names and wishes on, and left behind for good luck. It was wonderful and a little scary to find so many cats in one place. There was something about the sunny stillness of the afternoon and the unreadable expressions on the cats' faces that made it easy to imagine them coming to life en masse at night, transforming into real cats and silently wandering around the temple grounds before returning to their vessels. . Twilight form. Japan only recently began allowing tourists after years of strict Covid restrictions, and the temple was nearly empty that day, with only a few determined Korean and Filipino visitors taking professional selfies.

Mihoko and I walked between the shelves looking for the right place for our cats before finally placing them under the railing of one of the temple buildings. Despite being outside, the cats were all extremely clean and their red collars were shining. A few small maple leaves, as the Japanese call themMomijiThey were perched on their heads like berets and those most exposed to the weather had small marks of dirt on their foreheads which made them look more alive as their raised legs resembled the movement a cat makes when it walks on its front leg to rub her face and then lick it clean. (Which, frankly, is probably exactly what the cat was doing when these travelers first met him—he wasn't waving at them, but selfishly catering to their needs. That selfishness is what cat lovers love about cats. )

There wasn't, I noticed, noin factCats in the Temple, presumably to take down the Maneki Neko. Seeing so many inanimate objects unprotected on the shelves would be too much for even the most disciplined cat. If a real cat had entered the temple, the grounds would have been muddy and ruined. The hopes of thousands of people were dashed and turned into dust with a snap of the foot.


Of course, the Japanese are not the only culture that loves cats, nor can it be said that they love them more than any other. But you could tell they spent more time mythologizing her than anyone else.

It could even be said that the Japanese see the cat with something more complex and therefore more powerful than love: affection, yes, but also fear and admiration. ThereThey areJapan has sacred animals—notably the deer, which is often seen as a messenger of the gods in Shinto, the country's most dominant indigenous belief system—but the cat could be said to be more closely related to another group of animals, which also belong to in foxes and badgers: animals to be appeased.

The Japanese have a cautious love for foxes, known throughout East Asia as shape shifters. Although they are not always mischievous, they are considered playful and spend a lot of time trying to keep them happy. An InariJinja, or Inari Shrine, is a type of Shinto shrine popular among businessmen and housewives as it celebrates a god, theUsInari known for protecting wealth, home, rice, sake and foxes. However, over time, various beneficiaries of Inari have come to be symbolized by the symbolkitsune, the Fox. It is the fox, not Inari, who likes the rice. The fox asks for luck. At one of the country's most famous and beautiful Inari shrines, the 15th-century Fushimi Inari Taisha in southern Kyoto, there are dozens of fox sculptures at the feet of which people leave packets of Inari sushi and sushi rice wrapped in deep tofu pockets. , said to be the favorite food of foxes. Foxes have also been known to take the form of beautiful women to seduce a hapless man for fun or money. I once went to Fushimi with my friend Bitter, until recently also a resident of Tokyo, who was convinced that every third woman we saw was a fox in disguise. "Did you see her;" he whispered as a beautiful young woman in a long black pleated skirt walked past us. "Shehatto be a fox." Then there's the badger, righttanuki, which is technically a Japanese raccoon dog, although "tanuki" can also be used colloquially to refer to an actual badger. Tanuki are Falstaff characters: potbellied, happy, drunk, playful (the popular depiction of the tanuki shows him wearing a straw hat and holding a bottle of sake), but dark and untrustworthy. They're shapeshifters too, though their intentions are less malevolent and more selfish - more food, more sake, more harmless mischief.

Most of the time these animals live peacefully with people. (As long as due respect is paid; as we walk through Matsuyama, we pass a makeshift shrine to a tanuki, a weathered stone statue about a foot high, with a few bouquets of wild flowers resting on its side and a bottle It was a humble and amateurish thing, but Mihoko stopped and quickly bowed, like many other passers-by, her cat is no longer a cat: it is a demon.


In Japan, it's easy to spend a lot of time talking about demons. When they do speak, the tone is usually casual and matter-of-fact. Once, while walking downhill from a temple high in the forests above Kyoto, Bitter and I passed an elderly couple accompanied by a middle-aged driver. "You don't want to come here at night," said the woman cheerfully, "for the hills are full of things."matar: "bad stuff" — and the way the couple murmured their approval.

Cats are especially prone to turning into demons. I use the term "demon" in the broadest sense to mean bothYurei, which are spirits, andYokai, these are ghosts. (Real demons, as well as shapeshifters and ogres, are yokai.) Zack Davisson, author of the entertaining Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan (2021), identifies five main categoriesKaibyoor "strange cats": "the divided ones".neko mata(cat again), metamorphosisof peace(mutant cat), the cat/human hybridMuseu Neko(daughter of the cat), the nod maneki neko (welcoming cat) and the theft of the bodyKascha(Chariot of Fire [cat]).” No other animal, he observes (with some admiration), exhibits as many demonic variations as the cat.

Within this classification there are different degrees of malignancy. The most famous of these demon cats is Bakeneko. But whatANDthe Bakeneko? Is he a cat that became a man? Or is it just a cat standing on its hind legs by day, a sign of ownership by night? (In traditional woodcuts, Bakeneko is often depicted as extremely large, with exaggerated mastodon-like fangs and wild, happy yellow eyes.) Does this mean serious harm to us, or is it just a concern? Here are the limits of folklore, which is undeniable and highly subjective. This is true everywhere, but perhaps most notably in Japan. For example, everyone agrees that most animals and some people can become demons, but no one agrees how or why. However, according to some, Bakeneko evolved as a kind of response to thisZashiki Warashi. Some areas of Japan once had the custom of infanticide, practiced when a family had too many children to feed. The practice was namedusugoroand meant "to kill with mortars." However, many times the dead baby returned as a spirit, Zashiki Warashi, who shook the walls of the house and screamed. The theory was that Bakeneko's cry resembled that of a human baby - and it was much nicer to imagine being chased by a cat than your murdered baby.

But "I've never heard that before," Bitter said. "WhatEUIt has been heard that when a cat gets very old, say over 10 years old, it grows very large and turns into a devil."


"What do you mean 'turns into a demon'?" I asked.

"It only becomes a demon because it's old," he said.

"So you're telling me that every cat over the age of 10 is a devil or on its way to becoming a devil?"

"Yes," he said. (Bitter has two cats, one of which is 10 years old and, Bitter said, will probably become a demon soon. Part of Japanese folklore is the widespread belief that creatures of advanced age are generally prone to demonic transformations, and in Edo it was , when the belief became popular that 10 years was actually a long age for a cat.)

But even the cat's complex call can be interpreted as further evidence of its importance in a culture that seems to revere unpredictable creatures. Cats are often credited with guarding the first Buddhist scriptures to reach Japan. However, as any child raised in Japanese Buddhist folklore will learn early on, the only two animals that failed to publicly mourn the Buddha when he died were the snake... and the cat.

Another country or culture might have shunned the cat for this reason, but not the Japanese. Rather, his knowledge, centuries after the Buddha's death in 483 BC. to exalt the cat in the eyes of men—any culture that values ​​good manners as much as the Japanese secretly values ​​rebellion, and in the cat they may have seen a kind of enviable defiance, a commendable self-control. Here was a creature that did neither what you said nor what you expected. Here was a creature that would choose its own inexplicable path. So here was a creature to love, but also to fear.

Cats were not the only revolutionary arrival in sixth-century Japan. Buddhism was the other.

Shinto existed in Japan before Buddhism. Many belief systems try to limit the sacred to a few beings or figures, if not one. Shinto does the opposite. Depending on your perspective, this is generous or confusing, because in Shinto everything can be divine: people, animals, even stones or trees. Japanese organization guru Marie Kondo's signature on items that might belong in the trash: "Do I like this?" - gives people the right to make such decisions, whereas in Shinto, everyone can ask the same question about everyone else: "Does it please me?" I wonder if he?'

It is probably thanks to Shintoism that animals in Japan are given so much personality. While you're there, you'll be reminded of the relatively small place animals occupy in the narratives of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. The concerns of these religions are the souls of men. However, in Shinto, man is placed in the middle of a universe of living beings - whenThey aremore importantly, it's just bad.


Although Buddhism spread rapidly throughout Japan, it never replaced Shinto, which was certainly resilient enough to adapt to it. The two systems—along with this imaginative and vibrant folk tradition—influenced and enriched each other, creating a distinct comparative culture that officially existed until 1868, when the government officially re-established Shinto, which was recreated as a symbol of ethno-nationalist beliefs separately by Buddhism, a foreign intervention forcing Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to diversify their rituals and practices. Just 15 years earlier, US Navy Commander Matthew Perry, after a millennium of self-imposed isolation, had forced Japan to open up to the West. Nationalist sentiments, which would reach their peak in the next century, had already begun.

Despite the split, known asShinbutsu Bunri, changes little daily. Buddhist monks and temples continued to hold funerals and ancestral ceremonies. People continued to worship at Shinto shrines. If Buddhism in Japan defines death, Shinto defines life.

Shintoism is also undoubtedly one of the reasons why places like Aoshima exist. In Japan, there are not only (11) cat islands: there is also a monkey island. There is a rabbit island. There is a deer island (and also deer cities, notably Nara, the capital of Japan in the eighth century and home to over a thousand sika deer, which dominate the central park and occasionally try to attack visitors, who are warned by signs not to irritations). It's exciting to encounter Nara deer until they start chasing you, but generally the attitude in Japan seems to be that the animals are here to stay, and despite the annual slaughter, that's the case.usduty to fulfillthese.

I've always felt a strange ambivalence about being human in Japan, given what man has done to the natural world. in your movies"Prinzessin Mononoke(1997) and Spirited Away (2001), the animator and directorHayao Miyazakioffers visions of a post-human Japan, as well as worlds where the hierarchy between humans and animals is unstable. In Spirited Away, set in a latter-day enchanted bathhouse, humans are turned into animals as punishment, but the animals, some of which are admittedly chimerical, are also human knowledge and responsible for functioning. . and... work on sanctions. Below them, gods, some fearful, some happy, all desiring a bath, come and go, watching mortals with curiosity.

When I re-watched the film recently, I thought about the people of Aoshima - now down to five - whose job it is to feed all those cats. You are not alone in this. There is a group of volunteers on Shikoku who bring extra food and supplies to the island when the water is calm. And yet, no one seemed to suggest that these five people should go - for one thing, it's their home. Secondly, it is your duty to feed these cats. Despite their independence, cats are not monkeys, foxes or even deer. Their lives depend on us and the garbage we produce, which in turn attracts the rodents.


Aoshima represented an inversion of the modern food chain: few people, little waste, few rats, many predators. The resulting relationship arose from either a Miyazaki nightmare or a Miyazaki fantasy, which are often indistinguishable: were the cats held hostage by humans, or were humans privileged to care for them? Who was really responsible for Aoshima? Or was it a mistake to see the situation on the island hierarchically? Was it really the perfect example of a Shinto-inspired coexistence where, depending on the context and circumstances, a person could one day be in charge, only to wake up to find that no longer the case? People's age grew slowly. From animals we took - to animals they would bring us back.

AFTER GOTOKUJI, MIHOKO and I decided we would try again to start a cat society and took the train to a neighborhood called Yanaka in northern Tokyo. Yanaka is one-third of a larger region called Yanesen, which also includes Nezu and Sendagi regions. The area was once rice paddies and was largely spared bombing during the war. Today it is a living time capsule of the pre-war capital, with mid-20th century wooden and paper houses and small temples nearby. This is what Tokyoites call districtsShitamachi, which literally means "in the center", more melancholic, but means "old town", a throwback to a time when every neighborhood had its own tofu maker, or a shop specializing in traditional wax umbrellas, or a senbei shop with her crisp pots. from rice cakes.

The beautiful, quiet area with few cars and many paths and galleries is also known for its live cats, but also for many shops selling cat souvenirs and cat-shaped sweets. I last visited Bitter a decade ago, when his cat-to-be-demon was a kitten, and I could remember him leaving a store where he'd bought two cat-print towels and bumping into a bunch of cats. resting in the middle of the pavement. The bitter fell to her knees, screaming. so did other passers-by. However, the cats themselves showed immunity to attention. They were lying in the sun in a puddle of orange fur (many Japanese cats are orange or tortoiseshell), wagging the tips of their tails, yawning and ignoring us, which made everyone even more excited. cats are your indifference.

But this time there were no cats. I was excited when I finally spotted an extremely large and beautiful white cat sitting on a greengrocer's awning overlooking the street below, but as we got closer we saw it was a fake. As we walked down one of the narrow lanes, we noticed more of these fiberglass or plastic cats peeking from the roofs of awnings or balconies at Daikon bushes the color of winter tomatoes and Kyoto carrots. Whoever created them did a great job of capturing their feline nature, the way cats can somehow convey that they're just one whim away from causing utter chaos, and we're grateful they resisted that urge.

on the mattresses



Now the sun was setting and Mihoko and I went to a coffee shop to talk about the lack of cats. In 2014, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was implementing a euthanasia policy - a humane implementation, they might want to argue: if cats were allowed to breed freely, there would be no way for all of them, and many of them, to be fed, and they found that they would starve , a slow, sad, painful death. (Also, I later thought that the relative rarity of cats made them more valuable. Some were curiosities. Most were vermin. The same was true of the deer in Nara: it was as if (The government realized (that some handling was needed for us to continue to enjoy these animals, which meant we had management too.) But when we asked the waitress where the cats were, she seemed unconcerned. don't explain where else they might be, and we didn't rush her; it was more comforting to think no one that the cats were gone only temporarily, hiding the way cats do as if they were paid actors and would be gone, as if in a cozy house not far from here all Janesen's cats slept and purred and waited for spring, when they would lie down again on the brick sidewalks and would be surrounded by fans.

Or maybe it was even possible to believe that cats knew something we didn't. While Tokyo is still one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of 14 million, other parts of Japan are being emptied of people. Every year or so, a sad article appears in the Western media about how more and more young people in Japan are leaving small towns and villages for the metropolis. One of the most moving cases, published in Foreign Affairs in 2015, involved a remote Shikoku village called Nagoro. So many people left - then there were only 35 residents, almost all elderly - that one of the remaining residents began to repopulate his town.life size cloth dollswhich she sewed, clothed and then placed in the gardens, houses and streets where people worked, cooked and played. There were no other children in Nagoro, so he had made some. The school was no longer needed, but she still filled the classroom with her dolls, replacing the cotton and thread with flesh and blood. Ultimately, this story - majestic in its resignation, sadness and passion - was chosen as further evidence of the insane Japaneseness that the West tends to embrace when presented with stories of such transcendent loneliness.

But the statistics are harder to dismiss. Japan is the oldest society in the developed world: last yearpublished dataAccording to the country's Ministry of Interior and Communications, 29.1% of the population was over 65 years old. by 2040, this percentage should increase to 35%. At some point in this century, Japan will be very old indeed, and although new creatures are born every year, fewer and fewer of them will be human creatures. We will become demons. Instead of Bakeneko scaring us, we will scar them - or at least try to. After all, Aoshima wasn't always a cat island. It used to be inhabited mainly by people, fishermen, who brought cats to work as rats. However, although at some point humans were no longer able to replace themselves, cats did not have these problems. Now the natives had been replaced by invaders.

The next week, I sat on the plane back to New York and looked out the window as we flew east. Tokyo is so big that, from the right angle, it looks endless, a concrete grid that repeats itself over and over again. Somewhere below me was Aoshima and her five people and countless cats, and somewhere below me were Yanesen's cats and every other cat in Japan. In Aoshima, they were waiting for food. In Janesen (at least that's what I wanted to believe) they were waiting for the weather to change. A cat knows how to wait and, although it prefers to be fed, it also knows how to survive.

I wondered if I really overestimated our importance in cats' lives - not onlyto beCats, as Mihoko called them, but all cats. A 2017 study of mitochondrial DNA from ancient cats shows that, unlike most other animals we live with today, including sheep, dogs and horses,Cats were domesticated: There are almost no genetic differences between the modern domestic cat and its wild counterparts. This means thatShethey decided they would tolerate itus;Shethey decided that they would live togetherus. To think we made the choice for them was arrogance - a trait only humans have. It also means they could end up making the opposite decision. that we are no longer happy companions, that his association with us is over. And then they would go - where? On another planet that only they knew about? On another island that has not yet left the sea?


Perhaps one day, many years from now, there will be no people left in the Japanese archipelago. There would just be monkeys here, deer there, and rabbits in between. And around them, on empty windswept islands and long-ruined villages, there would be cats, millions of them, one for every human killed. They climbed into the forest, climbed huge cedars and screamed in fear of going down alone. Would they miss us, our big clumsy bodies, our incessant chatter, our poor night vision and sense of smell, our decades of trying to figure them out, our love for them? They didn't care about the myths, art, and stories we invented to explain our fascination with them. The timeline of our relationship was one-sided.

Or would they forget about us, the visitors to their lives, and find another species to live on? Many of us who have had cats sometimes measure our lives by how many cats we could have. On average, a cat lives for about 12 to 14 years, which means that if we're lucky, we can have six cats in our lives, one at a time, from infancy to death.

But if a cat could measure time, how would it do it? Certainly not the people in your life. but perhaps (or so we hope) through the human lives that have gone before: one, two, three, four. A century, two centuries, three centuries, four. They counted and blinked, counted and blinked, until finally they got bored. And then they would look away. It wouldn't matter where they went - wherever they went, they would be royalty. Where his feet fell, a new mythology. where they touched their whiskers, a new generation of supplicants. Japan wasn't the end - it was just a beginning.

Producer: Ayumi Konishi for Beige Company

Hanya Yanagihara is the editor-in-chief of T magazine.

A printed version of this article will be available at, book page


Magazine from T

with the title:

Hello Kitty.reprint orders|today's newspaper|Sign up to


Continue reading the main story

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Errol Quitzon

Last Updated: 03/08/2023

Views: 5816

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Errol Quitzon

Birthday: 1993-04-02

Address: 70604 Haley Lane, Port Weldonside, TN 99233-0942

Phone: +9665282866296

Job: Product Retail Agent

Hobby: Computer programming, Horseback riding, Hooping, Dance, Ice skating, Backpacking, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Errol Quitzon, I am a fair, cute, fancy, clean, attractive, sparkling, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.