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.
- 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:
- 1Q84 (translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel)
- “Town of Cats” is part of the story.
- Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin)
- includes “Man-Eating Cats” (translated by Philip Gabriel)
- Kafka on the Shore (translated by Philip Gabriel)
- “Town of Cats” (translated by Jay Rubin; free—article limit)
- A Wild Sheep Chase (translated by Alfred Birnbaum)
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (translated by Jay Rubin)
Recently-translated “cat books”:
- The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)
- The Guest Cat by Takahashi Hiraide (translated by Eric Selland)
- If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura (translated by Eric Selland)
- Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai (translated Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy)
- The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel)
This episode also recommends:
- A Cat, a Man, and Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki (translated by Paul McCarthy)
- I Am a Cat by Natsume Soseki (translated by Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson)
- Japanese Fairy Tales and Others by Lafcadio Hearn
- includes the story “The Boy Who Drew Cats”
- Kotto: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs by Lafcadio Hearn
- includes the essay “Pathological” about Hearn’s pet cat, Tama
- Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa by Keni Miyazawa (translated by John Bester)
- The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (translated by Meredith McKinney)
- She and Her Cat by Haruki Nagakawa and Makoto Shinkai (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
- The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Royall Tyler)
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.