Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Cats & Japan

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Japan’s love for cats was a fairly new thing, with cat cafés and Internet cat sensations such as Maru (the adorable chubby cat who likes to get into cardboard boxes) and Nyan cat (the animated cat whose song you won’t be able to get out of your head – plus ‘nyan’ means ‘meow’, by the way). But Japan has been a cat-loving nation (mostly) since the animal was first introduced to the country, from China, in the 6th century. One place where cats have had a significant impact on Japanese culture and lifestyle is in art – from pre- ukiyo-e to the modern day.

Tofugu (a wonky Japanese language and culture website) blogger Linda Lombardi has written a great piece on this very subject entitled ‘Printed, Painted, and Sculpted Kitties – Cats in Japanese Art’:

Cats are an obsession in modern Japan. Most people have heard of cat cafes by now, but did you know there are cat shrines and even cat tourism?  Tama the cat was appointed stationmaster of a Wakayama train station and revived the local economy by attracting tens of thousands of tourists a year. There’s a tourist-magnet island overrun with kitties. February 22 is unofficially Cat Day because nyan-nyan (the Japanese “mew-mew”) can also mean “two-two.” 

This may all seem like particularly modern craziness, but in reality it’s just the 21st-century version of something that goes way back, as we can see by looking at the history of Japanese art. Whether ink on paper or pixels on a screen, depictions of cats have been popular for as long as cats have been in Japan.

Read the full article here.

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