Cats in the 20th Century (Cats in Literature-Haruki Murakami)

Haruki Murakami with cat, cats and writersThe Japanese author, Haruki Murakami known for liking and having cats has included them in many of his works.  In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the story revolves around Toru Okada’s missing cat that he loves more than any of the women with whom he has encounters.  The cat also serves as an omen for the eventual disappearance of his wife.  In Kafka on the Shore the protagonist, Kafka Tamura, cannot pass a cat without petting it.  Nakata, an old man who, after having lost the ability to read, gains the ability to converse with cats.  Because he can talk with the cats, he becomes a finder of lost cats.  Nakata finds a Siamese cat named Mimi particularly impressive as she can quote from Puccini operas and hold conversations.


Kafka on the Shore, Murakami and cats

Murakami has also written several essays.  One of which, On the Death of My Cat discusses the death of one of his many cats.

On the Death of My Cat

 My cat died the other day. It was an Abyssinian I got from Ryu Murakami and her name was Kirin. Because she was Ryu Murakami’s cat, the name “Kirin” comes from the mythical Chinese unicorn- no relation to the beer.

 She was four years old, which in human years would have put her in her late twenties, maybe 30, so it was an early death. She was prone to getting kidney stones in her urinary tract, had had surgery already, her meal regimen comprised solely of diet cat food (which is something that exists in this wide world), but in the end, it was complications in her urinary tract that took her life. We had her cremated, put her tiny bones in an urn, and placed her in our household shrine. The house I live in now is an old Japanese style house, so it’s very convenient to have a household shrine at times like these. It seems to me that it would be hard to find a place to put your cat’s bones in a brand new two bedroom apartment. It just doesn’t seem right to put it on top of the refrigerator, you know?

 Besides Kirin I also have an eleven year old female Siamese cat named Muse. The name comes from a character from the famous shoujou manga Glass Castle. Before that I had two male cats named Butch and Sundance, the classic duo from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When you have a lot of cats it gets annoying coming up with name after name after name, so I do some extremely easy naming. I’ve had a mackerel cat named Mackerel, and a calico cat named Calico.  When I had a Scottish fold I named him “Scotty”. I’m sure you can derive from this pattern that I’ve also had a black cat named “Black” before too.

 If we organize the fates of the various cats that have come and gone in the fifteen years I’ve lived in this house, we get:

Haruki Murakami with cat, cats in japanese literature A) Dead cats: 1) Kirin 2) Butch 3) Sundance 4) Mackerel 5) Scotty

 B) Cats I’ve given away: 1) Calico 2) Peter

 C) Cats who suddenly disappeared: 1) Black 2) Tobimaru

 D) Cats I still have left: 1) Muse

 Thinking about it, there’s only been a two month period in these last fifteen years when there wasn’t a single cat in my house.

 This is kind of an obvious statement, but cats have lots of different personalities, and their behavioral patterns, as well as the way they think, differ from cat to cat. The Siamese I have now is that kind of unusual cat that can’t give birth unless I hold her hand. When the labor pains start up, this cat immediately jumps up from my lap onto the floor and sets herself down heavily, grunting like an old lady, onto a floor cushion. I take both of her hands tightly, and out comes one kitten after another. It’s pretty fun, watching this cat give birth.

 For whatever reason, Kirin loved the rustling noise that plastic wrap makes when she rolled around in it, and if someone crumpled up an empty cigarette box, she’d burst out of nowhere to pull it out of the garbage and play with it by herself for fifteen minutes or so. As to what circumstances led to this one cat’s habits, vices, and tastes to be formed is a total mystery to me. This cat – this strange, energetic, solidly built, vigorous appetite-having cat – is the complete opposite of Ryu Murakami. She was a real free spirit, and was popular with anyone who came over my house. When her urinary tract got worse she became less energetic, but even until the day before her death, it didn’t seem like she was going to die like she did. I brought her to the nearby vet, who let out all the blocked-up urine and gave her medicine to dissolve the kidney stones, but as the night came to an end, she crouched down onto the kitchen floor, her eyes opened wide, and grew cold. Cats are creatures that always die rather easily. Her face was too pretty in death–you might’ve thought that if you placed her out in the sun, she would thaw out and come back to life.

 In the afternoon pet specialists from a burial service company came in a minivan to pick her up. They were dressed just like the people in the movie The Funeral, and they even said their condolences like they were supposed to, but, you can just think of their remarks as a suitably simplified version of the condolences you would say for humans. Then it became a matter of money. The course from cremation to urn, along with the urn itself, came to 23000 yen. In the trunk of the van we could also see the figure of a German shepherd in a plastic storage bin. Maybe Kirin’s going to be cremated along with that German shepherd.

 After Kirin was carried off in that minivan, my house quickly started to feel empty, and neither me, nor my wife, nor Muse could settle down. Family – even if that includes cats too – is a living thing that has a certain balance, and when one corner of it falls apart, it doesn’t take long before everything subtly breaks down. Unable to go about my work at home, I thought I’d go hang out in Yokohama, so I walked to the train station in a soft, drizzling rain. But even that somehow didn’t seem worth the trouble, and halfway there I turned back and went home.

 **Right now I’m taking care of Muse and a cat named Croquette. There’s probably already a lot of cats named Michael and Kotetsu.

 In another essay, Murakami Harukido wa ikanishite kitaeraretaka, Murakami tells the story of an aged cat that he once owned.  In another piece entitled Choju Neko no Himitsu he tells the story of how he asked an executive at Kodansha Ltd., a publishing company, to take care of his cat while he was away.  In return for the favor Murakami promises to write a novel for the company which turned out to be Norwegian Wood, a bestseller.  Murakami writes that when he was writing his first novel Hear the Wind Sing, “I still remember well the days when I was writing my first novel at night, with the cat on my lap and sipping beer. The cat apparently didn’t like me writing a novel and would often play havoc with my manuscript on the desk.”

 Town of Cats, recently published in the New Yorker, is a tale included in Murakami’s novel 1Q84, which is about a man who becomes lost in a town where only cats reside.  Murakami said the following about the story, ” ‘Town of Cats’ is a story that I made up. I think I probably read something like it a long time ago, but I don’t have a very precise recollection of whatever it was that I read. In any case, this episode performs a symbolic function in the novel in many different senses–the way a person wanders into a world from which he can never escape, the question of who it is that fills up the empty spaces, the inevitability with which night follows day. Perhaps each of us has his or her own ‘town of cats’ somewhere deep inside–or so I feel.”


Murakami has admitted to being influenced by Natsume Soseki who wrote I am a Cat, an early 20th century novel where the narrator is a domestic house cat.


Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then this is the book for you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 



Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats



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