I‘ve always had a thing for cats. The cat in the photo on the left was taken in Hong Kong as it dashed out to me in hopes of affection or food. I’m a sucker for such innocence and helplessness.
However, not all cats are quite so innocent. Especially the cats here in Tokyo. While American cats will hiss a warning at you even before you spot them, Tokyo cats seem to be more full of game. They’ll lay purring on their backs looking like they’re welcoming a petting, then suddenly lunge and sink their teeth into your approaching hand. These are often the cats you see strolling along the streets of Tokyo in fluffy white coats as if they own the place.
I once observed a Japanese Chihuahua that had cornered such a cat, yapping away as if it had accomplished something. A moment later it was squealing in pain with a shredded ear as it vanished down the street. I swear the cat was grinning sadistically as she licked the blood from her pretty paw.
Here are a few tips about Tokyo cats based on my experience.
- Beware the quiet. I used to carry my cat around the neighborhood in the evening. At first she would constantly meow as she surveyed the novel environment, a flood of possibilities filling her mind. Then came the quiet. About 4 seconds after the quiet, there would be a sudden flurry of clawing in an attempt to escape the safety of my arms.
- Plan to get dirty. Sometimes, when my cat was just a kitten, I would let her explore a small patch of shrubs for a while before calling her back so I could safely carry her home. That was fine for the first few trips out, but she eventually got obstinate when I attempted to retrieve her. I far too often found myself crawling through the thorny shrubs, alternating between threats and promises as she smirked at me. I did usually get the final revenge as I hosed her soiled pelt down to a scrawny semblance of herself in the shower.
- Know the previous owner. One cat I owned actually turned out to be the ex-cat of a yakuza boss who was known to take cat thieves on one-way excursions on his boat. I dyed the cat black.
- Cats have emotional limitations. I once held 2 cats nose to nose by the nape of their necks on my lap in the belief that they could surely work out any differences between them. You can now play Tic Tac Toe in the crosshatch of scars on my forearms.
- Plan for shame. I used to let my cat sit on the limb of a tree in the evening as I read a book nearby. She would contently watch the people and traffic. Then one day she spotted the crows up on the wires passing near the tree. The next time I looked up from my book, she was about 25 feet up in a precarious perch on a branch just opposite the now taunting crows. I tried to coax her now to no avail. I pretended to leave her behind, but when I peered back at her from down the street, she had not even noticed I had left. Finally I return to the tree, looked both ways, then scampered up the tree in an attempt to retrieve her without ruining my reputation in the neighborhood. I failed. Halfway down the tree I noted the young boy pointing out to his mother the oddity of finding a foreigner in a tree holding a white cat by the nape of the neck.
So, if you’re considering getting a cat here in Tokyo, keep in mind it may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Those who know me will just have to guess at some of the metaphorical anecdotes as I fear the revenge of feline ghosts.