There is no population on Earth more fascinated by cats than the Japanese.
From cat cafes and train stations with feline stationmasters to the classic Maneki Neko waving cats that are supposed to bring good fortune and a whole island overrun by the furry animals, it’s a national obsession that Manami Okazaki explores in her new book, Land of the Rising Cat.
Covering religion, destinations, artisans, pop culture, art and design, all dating back thousands of years, Okazaki investigates weird and wonderful stories of shrines, temples and festivals, and interviews toymakers, fashion designers and even an architect to uncover the country’s love affair with cats. She even looks at cat-centric social media (Caturday, anyone?), manga and mascots.
As the description reads, “In a country with millions of cat owners, it’s not unusual to find felines in coffee shops, hotel lobbies, and museums; being taken for stroller rides, or even serving as train stationmasters. But how did this cat mania start? Why does it continue to grow? And are there really Buddhist funeral services for cats?”
You’ll find the answers to those questions in Okazaki’s beautiful book. Published by Prestel, Land of the Rising Cat by Manami Okazaki is out from 5 September.
Photograph by Tange and Nakimushi Peanuts
Yanobe Kenji, Ship’s Cat, photograph by Ryoichi Ageishi
A giant manekineko looming over a road in Tokoname, © Julian Krakowiak
The most popular of Ryuma Sagara’s folk toys depicts an octopus wrapped around a cat. They are so beloved for their design that demand for these cats supersedes production output. Fans buy them all year round and there is no off-season. © Jerfareza Daviano
Fumio Asakura, Dangling Cat, 1909, courtesy of the Asakura Museum of Sculpture
A display of regional Seto cats at the Manekineko Museum. They are slim, look closer to real cats and wear bibs with pleats and bells. © Julian Krakowiak
© Rie Matsui
A punter at the Bakeneko Festival during Halloween. It is open to anyone wearing a cat outift. Photograph by Manami Okazaki
Local resident Naoko Kamimoto feeds the cats at Aoshima, a small, bucolic island off Ozu, in Ehime. In 1960, Aoshima had a population of 655, but now there are only 15 or so elderly residents. Photograph by Manami Okazaki
A manekineko tram on the Tokyu Etagaya Line. Gotukuji Temple, famed for its hundreds of manekineko, is found along this line. Photograph by Manami Okazaki