I realize my sample size is basically two, but what is it about Japanese writers and cats?
If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, then you know his interest in cats. They are such a strong presence in his novel The Wind-up Bird that they cast something of a shadow on the rest of his writing. Do all his books feature a cat? No?
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, translated by Eric Selland, features a couple, writers both, who encounter a mysterious cat. All three characters would be right at home in a Murakami novel.
Which is my sample size of two authors with something of a thing for cats. I’m curious about cats and Japanese culture. Just how much do felines figure in to modern Japan? The human characters in The Guest Cat, like some in Murakami’s novels, are obsessed, taken in by the cat in ways that go beyond what most of us would consider normal.
I should say that my partner C.J. and I recently got a cat, our first cat as a couple, my first cat period. We have one cat and two dogs, so we are not “cat people” nor are we “dog people”. We’re not “pet parents” either. Neither of us consider our animals to be “fur babies.” They are pets, not children. We genuinely love them, but they will not be taking care of us in our old age.
The cat is not a fur baby in The Guest Cat by any means. It’s not even the couple’s cat. It belongs to a neighbor. It just basically walks into their house one day, makes itself at home for a few hours, then moves on. The next day, the cat comes back at just about the same time. Soon a routine is established, the couple becomes attached to the cat who seems to be attached to them, but where did it come from? what is the cat’s story?
Everything in The Guest Cat is temporary. The cat does not belong to the couple; it comes and goes as it wants. The house the couple lives in, in what must be a very expensive area of Tokyo as it’s described as very leafy with lots of gardens, is not their house. It’s the former guest cottage area where they are allowed to stay by a much older, largely absent land-lady who is happy to have someone watching over the main house. The couple is between major points in their own lives, not quite successful enough at their young age to have a more permanent home.
It’s all very up in the air, which may be why they become so attached to the cat. The cat, though he is not theirs, is part of the neighborhood, known about the area, much more so than his owners are. He’s a charming enough cat, but nothing special. It’s that he comes into their lives unexpectedly and at just the right moment that makes him important.
By this point, you may be asking yourself “the question.” The answer is yes, he does. But don’t let this put you off reading The Guest Cat if it sounds like something you’d enjoy. I really liked it, myself.
While there is a link in my mind, with this cat and The Wind-up Bird, I found the cat to be reminiscent of the dog in M.F.K. Fisher’s wonderful novella The Boss Dog. The boss dog is an unclaimed canine who roams the streets of pre-war Paris, going from cafe to cafe like he owns the place. The Guest Cat acts this way in his up-scale Tokyo neighborhood. I imagine he has relationships with quite a few local households that we don’t know about.