Episode 18: Cats in Japanese Literature

 “Cats of the Tokaido Road” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Check out Episode 18 of the Read Literature podcast.

Today, we’re going to look at cats in Japanese literature.

We’ll start with the history of cats in Japan.

We’ll move on to cats in Japanese folklore and fiction, including the work of Haruki Murakami.

And finally we’ll end with a discussion of our readers’ choice, “The Town of Cats” by Sakutaro Hagiwara.

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Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938, edited by William J. Tyler 

  • includes the story “The Town of Cats” (translated by Jeffrey Angles)

“The Town of Cats” also titled “Cat Town” also appears in Cat Town by Sakutaro Hagiwara (translated by Hiroaki Sato)

Cat stories by Haruki Murakami:

Recently-translated “cat books”:

This episode also recommends:

Find Out More

The Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. This episode opened with a discussion of Hearn’s letter to Basil Chamberlain dated August 1891.

“Japan’s Love-Hate Relationship with Cats.” A free, article-long summary of Davisson’s work via Smithsonian Magazine.

“Feline Fatale: A Look at Japan’s Growing Cat Mania.” A fascinating article translated from Japanese about the place of cat’s in Japanese culture and literature.

“Cats in Japanese Art—Printed, Painted, and Sculpted Felines: Cat Memes from 300 Years Ago.”

“6 Books for People Who Love Japan and Cats.” Books and Bao is a fantastic resource for translated fiction recommendations. You can also check out the YouTube channel, including the video “7 Great Japanese Books Featuring Cats.”

Naoki-Prize-winning author Kazufmi Shirashi talks about his love for cats. Three of Shirashi’s novels have been translated into English: Me Against the World, The Part of Me That Isn’t Broken Inside, and Stand-in Companion. Sadly, none prominently feature cats.

Author Mitsuyo Kakuta talks about her love for cats. Two of Kakuta’s novels have been translated into English, The Eighth Day and Woman on the Other Shore.

An interview between Haruki Murakami and Deborah Tresiman for The New Yorker. This 2011 interview discusses “Town of Cats”. It was translated by Jay Rubin. (free—article limit)

Murakami’s essay “Abandoning a Cat: Memories of My Father” in The New Yorker. (free—article limit)

What Is the Uncanny? A six-minute video by Oregon State University Professor Ray Malewitz.

“Literature” at Japanese Wiki Corpus

Japanese Literature at Facebook

Japanese Literature at Goodreads

Other RJL Episodes of Interest:

  • Episode 2: The Tale of Genji. A full episode about The Tale of Genji, the site of an early encounter with cats in Japanese literature.
  • Episode 6: High and Low Literature in Edo Japan. This episode includes a description of Japanese printing. It also explains with “low literature” or popular fiction is such a key part of Japanese literary history.
  • Episode 8: Meiji Literature and Japan’s Most Famous Literary Cat. Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat is probably Japan’s best known story about cats.
  • Episode 14: Banana and the Bubble. Banana was part of the kawaii movement that included cat (or cat-like) pop-culture icon Hello Kitty.

Sources

Chen Yan. “A Cat in the History of Japanese Literature” at LaiTimes.com, 2021. (free)

Cucinelli, Diego. “Feline Shadows in the Rising Sun: Cultural Values of Cats in Pre-Modern Japan” in Ming Qing Studies, 2013.

Davisson, Zack. Kaibyō: The Supernatural Cats of Japan, 2nd ed. Mercuria, 2021.

Eiji Iwazai. “‘Wakeneko’ Studies: A Journey into Japan’s Cat Lore” at Nippon.com, 2021. (free)

Manabe Masayuki. “Objections to the History of Cats as Commonly Portrayed” at Waseda Online. (free)

Murakami Haruki. “Abandoning a Cat: Memories of My Father” translated by Philip Gabriel in The New Yorker. (free—article limit)

–. “Man-Eating Cats” translated by Philip Gabriel in The New Yorker, 2000.

 –. “This Week in Fiction: Haruki Murakami.” Interview conducted by Deborah Treisman, translated by Jay Rubin in The New Yorker, 2011. (free—article limit)

Nathan, Richard. “Cool for Cats: Japanese Literature and the Feline Form” at Red Circle, 2017. (free)

Rosen, Allen. “Lafcadio Hearn and Cats” at Kumamoto University Repository System, 2010.

Sakutaro Hagiwara. “The Town of Cats: A Fantasy in the Manner of a Prose Poem,” Jeffrey Angles, trans. in Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. U of HI, 2008.

Tyler, William J., ed. Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. U of HI, 2008.

Updike, John. “Subconscious Tunnels: Haruki Murakami’s Dreamlike New Novel” in The New Yorker, 2005. (free—article limit)

Vasukem Adeline. “Cat Imagery in Haruki Murakami’s Fiction”, 2012.
Yosuke Kita. “Feline Fatale: A Look at Japan’s Growing Cat Mania” at Nippon.com, 2017. (free)

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