Japan, a cat paradise

Japan, a cat paradise

Intrigued by the borderline cult devotion the Japanese have for cats, photographer Geneviève LeSieur went there to witness it with her own eyes … and lenses.

August 8, 2019 By Sophie Marcotte

Geneviève LeSieur, who specializes in wildlife photography, has visited various destinations where cats are kings, including Portugal and the cat sanctuary of Fresno in California. She recently travelled to Japan, primarily to the cities of Kyoto and Osaka.

“I realized very quickly just how immense the cat craze is in Japan," says the resident of Quebec. “There are many shops that sell nothing but cat-themed accessories. I also saw cats dressed in little overalls.”

In the many temples LeSieur visited, furry friends wandered about, all relaxed and at ease: "You get the sense that cats are wholeheartedly welcome in these places of worship. The temples fill quickly with tourists so I got up very early one morning to take pictures in a quiet temple in Osaka. I met several residents who stopped there on the way to work; they said a quick prayer and left a plate of food for the cats. "

At the café

What's better than a little break in a cat café? Such establishments are certainly not scarce in major cities in Japan. "There are about 150 neko (Japanese for “cat”) cafés throughout the country. I visited various types. Whether they’re part of a big chain—like the Mocha Café franchise—or privately-owned and located in a tiny apartment, most cat cafés typically charge a fixed price. Customers pay for increments of time, such as 15 minutes, an hour or a day. The cats in these cafés usually wear an accessory around their neck: an old-fashioned dress collar, scarf or collar studded with marbles. One of LeSieur’s favourite cafés offered nap cubicles, which contained small beds. And the naps came with a bonus: impromptu visits from affectionate felines!

Cat islands

It was impossible for Genevieve to travel all the way to Japan without visiting one of the 11 "cat islands,” places inhabited by few humans but where the felines breed profusely. It was to the island of Aoshima that LeSieur set course after some intense research. "It was pretty hard to figure out how to get to this island. Very limited information is available in English on the internet. Even on the morning of my departure, I wasn’t entirely sure I was in the right place to catch the boat,” she says. Finally, the small group of 20 visitors was able to cross. Upon arrival, they were treated to a purr-full greeting! "It was crazy: about 60 cats came down from the village to the dock. Visitors bring food and toys, so the animals instinctively approach when they hear the engine of the boat.”

Cats are the only attraction on the island of Aoshima. There’s not even a restaurant. Geneviève was afraid of finding animals in poor condition but she was pleasantly surprised by their robust state of health. In addition to food from the tourists, the 20 or so island residents take good care of them. "The local fishermen also give the cats everything they catch. These cats have nothing to complain about!” says LeSieur.

Meeting Instagram’s feline stars

The highlight of the photographer’s trip was meeting social media sensations Daikichi and Fuku-Chan, the “Traveling Cats”. Increasingly popular on Instagram, these two formerly-abandoned cats have visited all 47 regions of Japan with their masters, Daisuke Nagasawa and Tomomi Toda Nagasawa, who push a charming adapted stroller or carry the two cats in their backpacks as they hike through the Japanes forests.


The photographer conducted a photo shoot with the Traveling Cats in the Imperial Palace Park in Kyoto. But it wasn’t easy. "As soon as I lay down on the ground to take the portrait, I had 10 people behind me who wanted to photographed them too. Daikichi and Fuku-Chan are irresistibly cute in their little stroller!"

The photographer returned home delighted with her feline-focused journey. She was surprised to see that the Japanese do not flatter cats a great deal. "Instead, they pat their buttocks, sometimes a bit hard ... Cats seem to love it! I tried the technique with my cats when I returned, but it wasn’t very successful.”



Visit genevievelesieur.com to read about Genevieve's travel stories and view more of her photos.

Follow the adventures of Daikichi and Fuku-Chan on Instagram and Facebook: @the.traveling.cats

Photo credits: Geneviève LeSieur

Cover: Daikichi and Fuku-Chan in the midst of a photo shoot at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace Park.

Photo 1: Everywhere you look, stray cats be found basking on the outskirts of the village.

Photo 2: A cat in a neko coffee shop proudly wears a scarf.

Photo 3: The feline population of Aoshima Island welcomes tourists arriving at the dock.

Photo 4: Fuku-Chan, one of the famous Traveling Cats, enjoys a stroller tour around Kyoto.

Photo 5: A cat contemplates the Inland Sea from the island shore.



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