Rclaim report of a cat, When cats disappear from the world of The story of the cat who wanted to save books. You don’t even have to look very hard to find Japanese literature about cats in the Dutch bookstore. Sometimes a cat on the cover gives away the content. And the cat also often plays a role in the books of that most famous Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. Is it a coincidence? Or are the Japanese really that crazy, just like the internet?

Ivo Smits, professor of Japanese Literature and Culture in Leiden, is cautious in his answer. “There is quite a bit of modern literature in which cats play a role. But there are also plenty of books that have nothing to do with cats.”

The cat (‘neko’ in Japanese) has been featured in Japanese books for decades. That seems to have started with I am a cat, which appeared in 1904 and has also been translated into Dutch. In it, Japanese society is satirically viewed by a cat. Smits: “After that you had more and more moments when the cat novel revived. And there has been a clear increase in this over the past 25 years.”

This is also evident, for example, from a 2017 analysis of the English-language Japanese site Nippon.com. In a decade, 5,400 books featuring cats have been published. That was considerably more compared to, for example, books on other popular subjects, such as Buddhism (3,800 titles), softball (3,400) and football (2,100). According to the author of the piece, cats also seem to have taken the place of children. While the birth rate fell, the number of cats in Japan rose.

Cat is a pet, dog is an outdoor animal

It is logical, says Smits, that the cat plays an important role in Japanese literature and not the dog. “Cats have been pets in Japan for a long time and are really seen as domestic animals. The Japanese don’t have a tradition like we do here with dogs. For them, these are typical animals that stay outdoors, although that is starting to change.”

But Japanese literature about cats is not really about cats, Smits qualifies. “At most indirectly. Personally, I think it would be very difficult to write a novel that is only about a cat. Ultimately, you want to read something about ourselves.” And that often seems to be the case. The cats are a way to tell something about people. Travelogue of a catfor example, is about someone who is terminally ill, even though it is told from the perspective of a cat. “You follow the cat that travels with its owner. It is a classic technique, of course, that you have a narrator who does not understand what exactly the situation is.”

Real cat literature

Smits does have a tip for what he thinks is really cat literature. The cat by Takashi Hiraide, translated by Luk Van Haute. “It’s about a writer who remembers how a cat regularly visits him. It’s about the developing relationship between the writer and the cat. There is something elusive about cats, and he does that very beautifully.”

Cats aside: Japanese literature is now more popular, Smits sees. “And much more diverse. But that also goes up and down. In the 1950s and 1960s, quite a lot of Japanese literature was translated in the West. That collapsed, after that you only had Haruki Murakami. Now we are again in a period in which many different books are being translated.”

NOVEL ABOUT THE NEIGHBOR CAT Excerpt from ‘The Cat’ by Takashi Hiraide

“All in all, Pukkie now walked in and out ten times a day. She took three naps, each for two or three hours. After they went to bed with her owner in the house next door, she secretly crossed the border and came to our house, where the light was still sparkling. She then assumed the position that indicated that she wanted to play, after which the game with the ball began in the dark garden.”

From: The Cat, Takashi Hiraide, Translated from Japanese by Luk Van Haute; 159 pages, Meulenhoff publishers, thirteenth edition 2021


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