John Helmer: Neko Time

May 22, 2017

‘Bob is the store manager. He sits in a box by the entrance and greets the visitors. All the others look up to Bob and love his easy-going ways. Except Mikan, who will often try to punch him...’
I’m at a cat café in Kyoto. I’ve come to Japan with my wife and two daughters. Number Two Son Harvey is already here, studying at a Japanese university, while his big brother Fred came last month on tour with his indie band. We justify this shameful carbon footprint as a family by the fact that last year we went nowhere. Last year, my wife was undergoing treatments for breast cancer. One of the things that saw her through that difficult time was the thought of this trip to Kyoto, in cherry-blossom time, when Buddhists celebrate the beauty and transience of life. And now here we are, celebrating the beauty and transience of life at the cat café, which for Poppy, 13, is the high point of the holiday. 
Felines sprawl around their boxes, towers and cots with an air of indolent entitlement. Poppy coos, they yawn; Grace puts out a hand to stroke and they recoil. Only the proffering of cat treats will induce them to show any interest. Nonetheless, it seems I am alone in picking up a clear f**k-off vibe.
So I settle into a cushion on the floor with a cup of execrable canned coffee and scan a binder that details in breathy, anthropomorphised style the various moggies’ likes and dislikes, their alliances and spats, and the precise set of social circumstances under which Mikan will land one on Bob. It reads like the plot of an Elizabeth Jane Howard novel, but with the adulterous sex left out. 
The wife catches my eye across the room and directs it towards a salaryman who has just come in – alone. He eats his packed lunch, beaming at the cats. The cats yawn contemptuously in his face.
I’m stifling one or two myself. We have spent the morning climbing Mount Inari through glowing amber tunnels formed by thousands of torii gates, just one stop in a packed itinerary of shrines, temples and insane shopping experiences that leaves very little time for sit-downs (life is for living). Not that there are any chairs in Japan if you were to get the chance. Everyone sits and sleeps and eats on the floor – and what with the constant bowing and squatting and removal of shoes, it’s like you’ve done a course of pilates before you’ve properly said hello. 
The freneticism of our trip reached its peak the night before when, hopelessly lost in the Japanese railway system, we took seven trains to cover the 27 miles back from Osaka. At one point – tired, hungry and in bad need of a bio-break – I turned to my other half and grumbled: “this isn’t much fun.”
“Well it’s better than chemo,” she purred.

 

 

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