Feline Faces In Japanese Literature
By Monique Rosa McClymont, Maisie Jane Garvin, Juliette Tulloch and Giulia Caparrelli
Japan is a cat-obsessed land dominated by cat islands, cat cafes, and ubiquitous feline depictions. From the luck of the maneki-neko to the kawaii (cuteness) of Hello Kitty and Doraemon, cats are beloved characters in Japanese popular culture, arts and literature, featuring on the cover of many books as the protagonists.
The Cat And The City by Nick Bradley
Nick Bradley’s sensational debut The Cat and the City was published just last year by Atlantic Books and features opposite colours in paperback and hardback. Having lived in Japan for over ten years, (originally intending to stay for just one year), Bradley is well accustomed to the everyday life in Japan. This collection of interlocking stories follows a stray calico cat’s life on the streets of Tokyo and her run-ins with its city dwellers. The hardback dust jacket imitates Japanese cover design, with sideways text and a bold overlapping cover image that pays homage to cherry blossom season in Japan (sakura). Carmen R. Balit who currently works for Atlantic Books designed this cover, having previously received a BA in Design for Publishing at Norwich University. The illustrations featured inside are partly courtesy of Mariko Aruga, who specialises in hand-drawn ink illustrations. Described by Rowan Hisayo as a “love letter to Japan and its literature,” this is clearly one book to add to the to-be-read list this summer!
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
The Guest Cat, a bestseller and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, is a Japanese novella by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide. The tale follows a loveless couple living in a quiet district of Tokyo and is greeted by an unexpected and charming feline visitor who sparks a change. Through daily doses of joy brought by the cat and a newfound appreciation for the little things in life, love is injected back into their marriage. Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library, the cover design features a detail from Chat Couturier, an oil on canvas by Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). He is a Japanese French painter and well-known lover of cats who has been referred to as “the most important Japanese artist working in the West during the 20th century.” On the otherwise simple cover, the cat’s face is a prominent feature; visible only from the eyes upwards, it almost pops up at the bottom of the cover like how one would imagine it first appeared to the couple. A special feature in a particular cover edition, green foiled the book title and eyes of the cat, giving the cover an alluring, subtle shine and the eyes, a hypnotic quality.
Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami was first published in 2002, before being translated into English in 2005, and this particular edition of the book is part of Penguin’s Vintage Magic collection. The book centres around two main characters; Kafka Tamura, a teenage boy and Nakata, an elderly man. In this tale of magical realism, Murakami invites readers into a world where cats talk, and spirits slip out of bodies. The unmissable red circle surrounding and focusing on a singular black cat, perhaps represents the overriding idea of metaphysics within the story, where the characters are motivated by the nature of the world around them. The black cat is popular within Japanese culture, and the one printed on this specific cover is more likely the black maneki-neko cat who is considered to bring good luck and believed to ward off evil spirits. Considering that Kafka runs away from home to escape a prophecy, the cat could be symbolic of his journey throughout the novel.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
This book follows the lives of Nana, a young, opinionated cat, and his kind-hearted human companion Satoru as they embark on a mysterious road trip across Japan. In the foreground, taking over the book cover with his charcoal silhouette, Nana, the protagonist of this story, sits alongside the changing landscape and seasons of Japan. Around Nana are falling leaves, and above him are tree branches from which three birds scrutinise the horizon through their silent gazes. Nature is given centre stage on this cover and people have no place. The sketches recall the subtle colours and black contours of Japanese woodblock prints. The style of the cover design is simple and decluttered, an example of the Japanese concept of Ma, balancing figures and empty space. The same balance takes place in the novel, between life and death, youth and ageing, despair and hope. A delicate and poetic book cover that echoes the delicacy of the story and the beautiful relationship between Satoru and Nana.