These first three images were taken from my friend Marisa’s phone. She kindly and patiently agreed to come along on my cat finding adventure. We also explored the docks and back-alley shops. There are a few host/hostess type bars in the area with interesting people milling about the fronts, especially later in the evening. We still felt perfectly safe (I don’t think I could say the same if I were in America). Marisa is street-savvy and tough, and an all-around cool person, so I could relax and talk to cats with her at my back.
Here is a sampling of the cats and kittens I came across hanging out in alleyways, at temples, and in storefronts. At least a couple of them, I was pleased to see, did have collars, but were allowed to mingle with the real strays.
Because of WordPress’s horrific layout controls, I’m going to put all the images that would have been included in “Noraneko: Stray Cats in Beppu and Nagasaki” in separate collections. Enjoy!
When I was wandering Beppu’s mall (You-me Town), I found a book titled “Sotoneko Japan”, Outdoor-cat Japan by Shunsuke Minamihaba, which shows extensive research into the stray cat situation. It is full of beautiful and heartwrenching photos, as well as maps that point to where there are the highest populations of strays. The tagline is “Kawaii dake ga neko ja nai”, or “Cats are more than just cute”, pointing out that people need to respect them as living animals with needs and boundaries. The cover slip warns readers not to carelessly approach strays that may be feral. I was careful in my explorations not to attempt to touch any of the cats that didn’t approach me themselves.
I bought the book and took it home with me. Unfortunately I know very little Japanese (the kanji in the book don’t have furigana), so I wasn’t able to read much.
The author has a website where you can see some of his photography (text is in Japanese):
Also a blog (in Japanese): http://ameblo.jp/sotoneko-nw/
When I came back from Japan, friends and family asked me why sixty percent or so of my trip photos starred cats. It’s not that I’m a cat fanatic, although I do love them, but the city of Beppu has so many stray cats, and they make interesting foreground subjects. Beppu isn’t the only city with a stray problem. In Nagasaki, too, cats perched on the monuments at the Peace Park, where in 1945 the atomic bomb fell.
Some of the felines hanging out in storefronts seemed to be adopted by shopkeepers, who had set out bowls of kibble. Sometimes I saw a kind lady at Kitahama Park (Beppu) offering the resident cat gang a large tub of catfood for dinner. Mostly though, the strays looked to be on their own.
A mom and her kittens hung out in a wood box on the side of a boat garage. The mom was a Calico, and it was very obvious from one of the bright white kittens what sort of man the dad had been. Mom-cat was shy and protective of her litter, so I couldn’t get too close. Sadly, a week later someone had filled the woodbox they’d been squatting in with wood, so the family had to move out and I didn’t see them again.
Strays have rough, dangerous lives, especially in the vulnerable and naive kitten stage. I was very depressed when I saw a kitten that didn’t make it lying on a sidewalk one night. Cars, cold, malnutrition; it’s a miracle that so many do survive the obstacles to become adults.
Unlike in California, in Beppu there didn’t appear to be active spay and neuter programs to stem the stray cat population. As charming as it was to pet friendly strays while I explored town, they shouldn’t be fending for themselves between busy streets and alleyways. I don’t know anything about local policies or the economic situation—I can only say what I observed for two short months—but I hope there is change in the future.
On a side note, I didn’t see a single stray dog. The dogs I did see (mostly shibainu) played in the parks with their owners.
The first time I traveled outside my home state of California wasn’t to another U.S. state (not counting an hour spent inside the Hawaiian airport), but five thousand miles west to Japan. At 22 years old, it was my first plane ride and my first time traveling alone. For two months I stayed at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Kyushu. I wanted to witness for myself the magical wackiness and beauty of Japan, the country that so many Americans have fallen in love with as an epicenter of creative pop culture.
There are probably millions of blogs that show off interesting and wonderfully weird aspects of Japan: anime, manga, and cosplay; maid, butler and cat cafes; Hello Kitty, alpaca and capybara toys; flashy bars, love hotels and restaurants; black squid-ink hamburgers; and of course, the famously ubiquitous vending machines. Even if you’re not a Japanophile, you’ve heard of some of these things.
At Stray Cats and Onsen, I’m going to focus on my personal experiences and impressions about my two-month stay. Although the majority of my visit was in Kyushu, I stopped by Tokyo for a couple days for a fast-paced walk-through of some famous locations. That one weekend alone gave me plenty to think about.