Photos of readers

Thank Ceiling Cat, we have two entries in the tank (one after I post this). Send in your contribution or I’ll shoot this cat!

Today’s reader is Steven Nelson, and I find we have another talented musician as a reader (be sure to watch his YouTube video linked below). I’ve indented Steven’s captions:

I am Steven Nelson, Australian by birth but resident in Japan for more than forty years now. I’m a professor in the Japanese department of the Faculty of Letters, Hosei University, Tokyo. I have posted under the name SteveninTokyo, though not very often. This academic year (April to next March) I am on sabbatical, and had planned to spend most of it in China, traveling to ancient sites on the Silk Road and surveying the musical riches depicted in cave murals and the like. But COVID-19 put a stop to all of that, so here I am, in my Tokyo apartment.

My first photo is a frame from a video that I made on July 20, recording one instrumental part of a virtual ensemble online performance premiered at an online symposium held on August 1. I used Japanese parts scores for five melodic instruments, mainly of the 11th to 13th centuries but including melodic ornamentation in the wind parts from scores of later centuries up until the 19th, to demonstrate what ‘Tang music’ (music of the Chinese Tang court, some of which was transmitted to Japan) might have once sounded like.

If anyone is interested in the final product, please have a look! This is the first time I’ve done this sort of recording, and the gradual increase in tempo throughout the performance didn’t go as smoothly as I’d intended, which caused the other players some problems. Still, it’s an interesting start. There are 200 more pieces to record!

My second photo is of a rescue cat who has been living with me since July 8. She was one of 20 or so cats rescued from a dire situation early in February this year, and had been kept caged at a shelter until she came here. She had little contact with humans before she was rescued, and won’t let me touch her, but we’ve got into a fairly good routine of eating, sleeping and playing with toys that I can manipulate far enough away from her for her not to be frightened by me, like feathers and fake insects on long strings. I’ve named her Nana, using nice Chinese characters to express the idea of ‘seven,’ since she was the seventh cat rescued, and called Hepta at the shelter. Any hints from cat lovers about how to get along with better with her? Food looks like the best way to get into her heart at the moment; she has begun to take treats from my hands, and eat them without moving away. I’m happy with her the way she is, but it would be nice to hear a purr or to be able to scratch her neck occasionally!


43 thoughts on “Photos of readers

    1. From the shape (hooked) and length of the tail this is probably a Manx cat. This would be about as long as the Manx tail grows; some have no tail at all. They are great hunters: note the large paws! Last night our Manx cat caught a small rabbit and consumed most of it on the back door step. This sort of meal means we won’t see her for a few days. Due to their terrific rate of acceleration and the short tail, fable suggested they were a cross between a rabbit and an ordinary cat.

      1. Thanks, Don. I always thought that Manxes had much shorter tails. My Meximutt rescue has one about that length. Figure it might’ve broken off in a fight or car door. It’s kind of cute.

        1. A short, lightly crooked tail, just a stub, or even no tail at all, seem to be common among Japanese cats of no particular breed. I think it may be a genetic trait. Some of her siblings have full tails, but others share her short version.

          1. Genetic yes: the mother of my cat was Manx. We never got to see the wild father, but unlikely a Manx, so maybe a dominant trait. The other feature of the ‘tail’ is its behaviour which is to ‘flicker’, apparently for no reason at all. The characteristic ‘kink’ at the end of the tail would suggest it did not suffer the same fate as the Pied Pipers rats’ tails!(Help! Did I get the apostrophe right?).

            1. I believe that the allele for the Manx condition is dominant, but homozygous lethal. So if you get it from both parents, you never make it out of the uterus.
              Could be wrong, would be happy to be corrected by a real geneticist – I just play one in front of my students. Or on Zoom, these days.

          2. I meant to add (actually I’m sure I did add) that Japanese breeders have selected for the trait, producing a breed known as the Japanese Bobtail. But little Nana (she’s estimated to be two years old, but small for that age) has no pedigree! The lack of a tail seems to give her extra strength in her back legs. She is incredibly fast when she pounces on her toys; she manages to catch the imitation birds and insects more often than not.

  1. I loved the performance. Very impressive. It was lovely to hear everyone.

    I’m so glad Nana has such a wonderful home after such a dire situation. She looks very relaxed and content. Perhaps in time she will become more familiar with you and be more trusting.

  2. I liked the performance. Too bad about the loss of travel plans and I hope the kitty warms up to you.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have a look as soon as I get the cleaning done! Nana sheds a lot of hair, but won’t let me brush her yet, so the chairs need to be de-haired every morning!

  3. Thank you for posting, especially for the link to the performance. Well done.

    As to kitty, I think you’re on the right track. If you’ve got her eating from your hands and not backing off to eat the nibble, I’d say she’s warming to you. She’s a pretty cat. You’re a lucky guy. She will reward you.

  4. Thank you for the video. I am not familiar with the instruments, but the performance was enjoyable esp considering it was “virtual”.
    I wish the initial stringed instrument could have been seen in its entirety. Show more and good luck with your good deed kitty.

  5. Nice pictures and nice cat. Reminds me a little of our cat Zing who has a Holstein cow color scheme.

    It sound like Nana is going to just get closer and closer to you. All you need is time, love, and food.

  6. Your obvious patience with Hana is the thing to do and will pay off big time. How does she feel about your music?
    I watched the music video. It is very interesting and much more melodic than I anticjpated. What are the names of the different instruments. Are the instruments contemporary too? What kind of strings are used on the stringed instruments?

      1. The names of the instruments are in the commentary below the YouTube video. We used a combination of Japanese and Chinese instruments, all deriving from instruments of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. The two stringed instruments are Japanese, with silk strings, and their forms have hardly changed since the 8th century, by which time they had arrived from China. Their counterparts in China changed, gaining more strings in the case of the zither, and more frets in the case of the lute.

    1. There is a wonderful brand of similar treats in Japan, called Ciao chūru. They have been part of my repertoire of special treats from the beginning! Nana is beginning to expect one in the late afternoon!

  7. I’d love to know the names of so many instruments seen in your video.

    Another hero saving cats! Hooray! I don’t know how long you’ve had her, but much of it depends on how old she is, how long she’s been in your home, and when she was taken off the streets. Still, she’ll probably warm up to you in time.

    1. You can find the names of the instruments, along with the names of the performers and where they are based, in the commentary to the YouTube video. It was a very international effort!

  8. That was very interesting music to a mainly classical (so-called), but rather unadventurous, music fan.

    Your name reminded me of an old friend I’d lost touch with, who did grad work at the same place and time as me, more than 50 years ago. To see the connection, look at

    if interested, but perhaps only because you’re both anglophone profs, him in Germany, you in Japan.

    1. I’d never come across him! There are a few other Steven Nelsons (Nelson’s? I always worry about how to write plurals of names, and have seen advice to do it this way …) out there, so I use Steven G. Nelson in my academic writing, but Nelson Stephens (with the s as part of the surname!) is new to me.

  9. The instrument you’re playing seems a bit like a zither (the instrument famous for being the sole source of the soundtrack for the Cold-War film staring Orson Welles, The Third Man).

    1. Yes, it’s the Japanese 13-stringed zither called sō, sō-no-koto, or simply koto, that has been played in various genres since the ancient period. The particular instrument I’m playing in the video I had made specifically to play accompanied song of the 17th to 19th century, of a genre called koto kumiuta. But the structure of the instrument is common to all genres, with slight differences in length. The material and thickness of the strings, and what sort of picks you use, can make the timbre very different.

  10. If you’ve only had Nana since early July, you are doing remarkably well in getting her used to you and being inside. I’ve worked with almost a dozen feral cats who exhibited the same behavior. Some had no idea how to play with toys. They obviously knew how to hunt, but the idea of chasing a non-living object was something they had to learn. One thing you might try is to make the toys gradually come closer to you, then sneak in a touch. She will be offended, but that is how I’ve succeeded in getting some of the ferals to become accustomed to touch.

    Your approach is exactly right: patience and persistence are the keys to winning her over. She looks very relaxed in the photo, so keep doing what you have been doing. I’ve had my most recent rescue inside now for a year; he is still getting used to being touched and has just recently started taking treats from my hand, though there are other cats around who show him it’s o.k. It was several years before I heard one cat purr. It is so amazing when that happens! May Nana be purring for you by the end of the year!

    1. Thank you for such an encouraging comment! I will keep on doing what I’m doing. She’s got me at home until the end of March next year, and after that I’ll be on a reduced teaching load since I’m getting very close to retirement age. And I imagine that most if not all of my teaching next academic year is going to be done remotely in any case. So she’ll be getting as much attention as she wants!

  11. The music has a narrative feel to it. I’m listening to a sound track of some sort. Mesmerizing and compelling for sure. It is apparent you are a patient man, thus I believe your new felid friend will come around. In my limited experience, patience is key to reaching any stressed/debilitated intelligent animal, especially those who can be domesticated.

  12. Had one timid rescue for a year before he warmed up to me. (He was afraid of being touched.) But now, oh, what a wonderful rumbling purr he has!

    Nana will be fine. And your patience will be rewarded.

    1. I began a double degree in Arts and Law at the University of Sydney, and ended up not completing the law degree, having discovered the delights (?) of musicology, and the study of the history of music in East Asia, specifically Tang-dynasty China and Japan. I wanted to study in China, but it wasn’t a good time to do that, so I came to Japan on a Japanese government scholarship in 1980. I’ve been here ever since, except for a single semester as a visiting associate professor at UC Berkeley in 2004, where I taught a course on Japanese Buddhist music. My current university is a good place to work, and my department colleagues are, except for a single exception, very congenial. I teach courses on Japanese music history, music in Japanese classical literature, something the university calls “International Japanese Studies,” as well as undergraduate and graduate seminars. I have one class on writing academic English, but otherwise all of my classes are in Japanese.

  13. when I was 20 (1991) after studying Japanese at high school in Melbourne, Australia, I moved to Japan myself (Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, and Nagano-ken) for what I thought was life (and would have been very OK with that – its nice to live in a high social trust society when you can speak the language).

    Later I got a scholarship to study in the US, which of course I took, and I’ve been here ever since. Happily. But I still speak Japanese and, after many later visits there, miss it a lot.

    Cheers/kampai to you, mate!

    D.A., J.D., NYC

  14. Wow, the diversity of WEIT readers always amazes me.

    This type of music is fascinating and all new to me. The other 200 recordings you’ll make will end up on YouTube too, yes?

    You new house mate already trusts you a lot, or you would not have been able to take a photo while she’s sleeping. Try the ‘slow blink’. Look at her and slowly blink with both eyes, then look away and watch from the corners of your eyes. You are telling her: I like you and I will do no harm. I’m sure she’ll respond in kind.

  15. I worked with a Chinese man who was an expert in playing pretty much any Chinese stringed instrument. He was once offered a position at a university in Denmark. I asked him why he didn’t make a living as an instructor. He lived in Richmond, BC where over 50% of the population is of Chinese heritage. He told me that Chinese parents in the West don’t want their kids to learn traditional Chinese instruments, it’s all piano, violin and sometimes cello.

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