Tag Archives: Wakayama

The Cat’s Meow: Cat Cafes in Japan

You already knew that Japan was obsessed with cats from Hello Kitty. And how about Maneki Neko, the “Beckoning Cat” sculpture of the waving cat that is meant to bring good luck. Well then, you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear about our visit to a cat cafe. Yes, a cat cafe – do we even have these in The States? While in Kyoto, Neetha and I made a stop over at one and spent a half hour petting some friendly felines. You pay by the half hour, and with the admission cost you get a free drink and entry into the area with about a dozen or so cats. Most were sleeping (duh, they’re cats) but a few frisky ones were up and ready to try to steal some of our iced coffees or to play along with us with the cat toys. The whole idea of a cat cafe is interesting to me because I grew up with cats in the house and so I never thought much about having to go out of my way to see them. However, apparently many landlords in Japan don’t allow pets at all, so a lot of younger people are starved for some cat attention. There’s also something very soothing about spending some time around cats: even during the short half hour we were there, I could feel myself unwind a little and feel more at peace with every minute I spent petting the giant gray furball behind me. In a country with a crazy hectic work culture, they may be onto something with this. It’s also known to have a more friendly vibe for a cafe, and some people even go there on dates so the cats can be the icebreaker during those awkward moments.

Oh but there’s more. If you didn’t get enough cat love at the cat cafe, stop by to say hello to Tama the Cat, the station master in Kishi. Tama is a real cat, a calico in fact, and he’s quite popular in Wakayama. As a station master, he’s been photographed wearing his conductors hat which makes him look quite dashing. People take the half hour electric railway ride on the super fabulous Tama the Cat Train and go oogle Tama as he sits back and watches his adoring fans behind glass. Ok, in reality the poor cat looks like he’s over all the glitz and paparazzi, as we soon realized after staring at his backside for a few minutes. But even with a less than zealous mascot, the train station in Kishi is still pretty entertaining as the whole place is decorated with Tama photos. Neetha and I were probably a little over the targeted age range there, but we still had a good laugh about it.

Japan’s obsession with cats is just another pro to the growing list of reasons that Japan is an awesome place to visit. Meow!

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Wakayama Typhoon Relief Aid

Wakayama prefecture is a beautiful part of Japan full of rolling hills, giant trees and plum blossoms that bloom around this time of year. It sits next to Nara, the area where my sister is currently living and teaching English. Last September, the area was hit hard by Typhoon Talas which left many parts of Wakayama and Nara devastated – the typhoon caused many trees to fall into the rivers which led to flooding throughout many different towns. Thousands of people were evacuated, many people were injured and some even lost their lives. The area is still recuperating from all of the damage done.

Seeing as I was just in Japan a few months ago and had a lot of time to do the typical sightseeing, I wanted to do something a little different with this visit. My sister got plugged into a relief organization through some of her JET friends and we decided to volunteer to help with some of the work they are doing in Wakayama. Because of the flooding, the rivers moved a lot of trash and debris and many of it has still not been cleaned up due to the sheer amount of it. So on Sunday, a group of seven of us went into the mountains to clear trash from a national park. The park is actually on an island which itself is still very beautiful, but unfortunately now has many broken trees and trash littered all over the area. The island used to be a big attraction for tourist groups that would come to the area, and one of the guys who takes care of the land told us a little about the history of the park. Over 150 years ago there was a great flood which wiped out most of the trees, but the flood brought new seeds from all over and created a whole new diverse (multicultural, if you will) forest. Which explains the random palm tree we saw hanging out in the middle of the island.

We spent about 5 hours clearing as much as possible, whether it was climbing trees to get trash that was stuck in the branches (which showed just how high the water came) or shoveling out debris that had been deeply buried. A surprise find of the day was a monkey skull Neetha came across – it reminded us how much wildlife must have been wiped out as well because of the storm.

In a day’s work we filled over 25 bags of trash, and we only tackled what felt like a small area of the island. It was eye-opening as undoubtedly it will take a lot of time and effort for Japan to fully recover not just from this disaster but from last year’s tsunami as well. That being said, from speaking with the people that live in this area I’ve found that they are optimistic and focused on regrowth, which is a testament to the resilence and beauty of this country.

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