Saturday, May 28, 2011

Murakami the Cat Lover

First of all, my apologies for taking such a long absence from this blog. As you may have seen from my Twitter feed on the right of this page, I recently graduated from college. (Woohoo!) So in the last few weeks, I have been somewhat overwhelmed with life-related things, first with finals, then with graduation stuff, then with moving back home stuff, then with job hunting, etc. Just busy busy busy.

But now I'm back, and hopefully I'll be updating as regularly as I can, though I am still trying to get my life in order.

Anyway, I've been wanting to do another small translation for this blog for a long time, but I've had my hands full with a big translation project for school, and it was hard to justify working on a different translation when I was pretty much behind schedule the whole time. (D'oh.) But, I got it done, and now there is no more school work at all for the near future. As for today's post:

A few weeks ago I saw this blog post linked on Twitter, about authors and their various feline companions. There's a lot of good stuff here (I especially love that Jean-Paul Sartre named his cat Nothing), but if you scroll down, you'll find Haruki Murakami and his cat Kafka somewhere in the middle.

This reminded me of an essay/editorial Murakami wrote for the Asahi Newspaper that was later collected in Murakami Asahidou no Gyakushuu about the death of one of his cats. Interestingly, these articles were written in the mid '80s, and as you'll see in the essay, he talks about a fifteen-year period of living with cats, and none of them were named Kafka (at least according to this very short essay). Murakami looks pretty young in the photo, so I wonder where that photo (and the source of the cat name) comes from.

No matter, really. Enjoy. 


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:

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.


  1. Is the essay collection one of the books you brought back from Japan? I'm looking forward to what you translate next, Murakami or otherwise. Hope these couple of post-college weeks has been good to you!

  2. Yeah it is. I had a bunch of essay collections that got lost so now it's just this and one other. They're great because they're all only two to three pages long. Perfect length for me to not lose my patience.

    I found a hilarious Murakami super short story in another collection that I'm working on. That'll probably be up soon, then I'll take a little Murakami break. I should diversify...

    Hope you're doing well too!

  3. I really like it. AS a great cat lover, Haruki used quite often cat as a very important symbol to his stories.