Caturday felid trifecta: Traveling with cats; Japan and its cats, ancient Chinese poet becomes cat slave

From Smithsonian Magazine, a history of traveling with cats. Click on the screenshot:

The article is mainly historical, showing how cats moved around with humans, usually taken on ships. And there are a few modern traveling moggies, too, like the one in the photograph above. Have a read: here are a few photos and excerpts from the article.

Earlier this summer, Laura Moss, a human at the center of a community helping introduce housecats to the outdoor world, published a book, Adventure Cats, bringing awareness to some remarkable cats who are out there hiking, camping—even surfing.

Moss, who also runs a website by the same name (adventurecats.org), explains that this kind of cat is far from a new phenomenon. “People have been doing this with their cats long before social media existed,” she tells Smithsonian.com. But in recent years, the community has received new recognition, she says, in large part thanks to people sharing photos and videos of their furry friends on various media accounts.

A painting of a cat on a leash seated near food circa 1504–1458 B.C. was discovered in the tomb of May. (Rogers Fund, 1930/Public Domain)

While evidence of domestication dates back at least 9,500 years (originating from the wild cat Felis silvestris lybica), it wasn’t until the Egyptians got their hands on the felines that they became intensely documented. As early as 2000 B.C., Egyptian-made images of cats offer evidence that some of the earliest domestic cats were put on leashes. (Ancient Egyptians used cats to control their vermin population, and likely, these leashes were used so that their valuable pest control solutions wouldn’t escape.)

Cats proved so apt at their duties that the Egyptians linked the ratters to their religious deities. By 525 B.C., cats were so revered that legend has it the Persians were able to invade Egypt in part by having soldiers bring cats to the battlefield. The Egyptians, the story goes, chose to flee rather than harm the animals.

Other ship cat stories abound. Viking sailors took cats with them on long journeys, and if Norse mythology is any indication, Vikings enjoyed a healthy respect for their cat companions. (Freja, considered the greatest of all goddesses, employs two cats, Bygul and Trjegul, to pull her chariot. In her honor, it even became tradition among Vikings to gift a new bride with cats.)

And there’s Blackie:

During the Second World War, one of many cat tales involved Winston Churchill, who famously took a shine to Blackie, the ship cat aboard HMS Prince of Wales. The large black cat with white marks, who was later renamed Churchill, kept the prime minister company across the Atlantic on his way to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Newfoundland in 1941. (Controversially, some cat fans took issue with a shot snapped of the two, however, where the prime minister is pictured patting Blackie on his head: “[Churchill] should have conformed to the etiquette demanded by the occasion, offering his hand and then awaiting a sign of approval before taking liberties,” opined one critic.)

Churchhill was a great cat lover.

The “adventure cats” that [Moss] chronicles, like a black-and-white feline named Vladimir, who is on his way to traveling to all 59 U.S. national parks or a polydactyl Maine Coon named Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpaws (Skatty for short), who is sailing the Southern Atlantic ocean, show another kind of cat – one that nods back to the fierce felines of history who sailed the world, survived Europe’s crusade against them and made it all the way to Memedom.

Here’s Skatty.  Look at those mittens helping him hold onto the ship!

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More cat history, also from Smithsonian Magazine but about Japan. The “love-hate” thing is about the Japanese love of pet cats, but also how they figure in mythology as figures of terror.

Take the fact that cats exist in Japan at all. No one knows exactly when and how they got there. The “best guess” is that they traveled down the silk road from Egypt to China and Korea, and then across the water. They came either as ratters guarding precious Buddhist sutras written on vellum, or as expensive gifts traded between emperors to curry favor. Most likely both of these things happened at different times.

Japan’s first known cat!

But for our first confirmed record of a cat in Japan—where we can confidently set a stake in the timeline and say “Yes! This is unquestionably a cat!”—we must turn the dusty pages of an ancient diary.

On March 11, 889 CE, 17-year-old Emperor Uda wrote:

“On the 6th Day of the 2nd Month of the First Year of the Kampo era. Taking a moment of my free time, I wish to express my joy of the cat. It arrived by boat as a gift to the late Emperor, received from the hands of Minamoto no Kuwashi.

The color of the fur is peerless. None could find the words to describe it, although one said it was reminiscent of the deepest ink. It has an air about it, similar to Kanno. Its length is 5 sun, and its height is 6 sun. I affixed a bow about its neck, but it did not remain for long.

In rebellion, it narrows its eyes and extends its needles. It shows its back.

When it lies down, it curls in a circle like a coin. You cannot see its feet. It’s as if it were circular Bi disk. When it stands, its cry expresses profound loneliness, like a black dragon floating above the clouds.

By nature, it likes to stalk birds. It lowers its head and works its tail. It can extend its spine to raise its height by at least 2 sun. Its color allows it to disappear at night. I am convinced it is superior to all other cats.”

Sawaki Sushi Nekomata (Wikimedia)

There were also bakneko: shape-shifting cats.

Around 1781, rumors began to spread that some of the courtesans of the walled pleasure districts in the capital city of Edo were not human at all, but rather transformed bakeneko. The idea that passing through the doors of the Yoshiwara meant a dalliance with the supernatural held a delicious thrill to it. Eventually, these stories expanded beyond the courtesans to encompass an entire hidden cat world, including kabuki actors, artists, comedians, and other demimonde. When these cats left their homes at night, they donned kimonos, pulled out sake and shamisen, and basically held wild parties before slinking back home at dawn.

These stories proved irresistible to artists who produced illustrations featuring a wild world of cats dancing and drinking late into the evening hours. The cats were depicted as anthropomorphic human-cat hybrids (although the bakeneko were capable of shapeshifting into fully human forms, too). They smoked pipes. Played dice. And got up to all kinds of trouble that every hard-working farmer wished they could indulge in. Artists also created works replicating cat versions of popular celebrities from the world of the pleasure quarters.

Bakneko in an onsen (hot spring resort):

Perhaps the most persistent of the Edo period supernatural cats is the maneki neko, known in English by the sobriquet “Lucky Cat.” While truly a creature of commerce, this ubiquitous waving feline has folkloric origins—two of them, in fact. Gotokuji temple tells of a fortuitous cat that saved a samurai lord from a lightning strike during a terrible storm. The lord gave his patronage to the temple, which still exists today and happily sells thousands of replica cats to eager tourists. The other origin is of a poor old woman whose cat came to her in a dream and told her to sculpt a cat out of clay to sell at market. The woman marketed both her cat and her story, selling more and more cat statues until she retired rich and happy. These same cat statues are still sold worldwide today as the Maneki Neko.

Maneki neko (Wikimedia)

Me with my office maneki neko, which I bought in Hong Kong:

 

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This new post at For Reading Addicts is great: a Chinese history buff documents how, 800 years ago, a Chinese scholar became a slave to his cat.

Sci-fi and fantasy author, and Chinese history buff, Xiran Jay Zhao explained how life back then wasn’t so different to now, especially when it comes to the life of a person and their cat. Or, to be more accurate, a cat and their slave.

The young writer explains that even 800 years ago cats were brought into the home for whatever reason (in this case to stop rats munching on the poet’s books) and they end up as masters of the household. No cat accepts position as a mere pet or mouse hunter- they are to be adored and fed fish at the very least!

The poet and scholar Lu You falls in love with their new friend, and expresses his contentedness through poetry.

Support the young writer at her website xiranjayzhao.com

Here are a few of Zhao’s tweets showing the poet succumbing to the cat’s mystique (there are more at the site), with the transformation all expressed in Lu You’s poetry (I assume it was translated by Zhao):

h/t: Barry, Dom, Ginger K.

13 Comments

  1. Andrea Kenner
    Posted September 19, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful Caturday post! Thank you, PCC(E)!

    • boudiccadylis
      Posted September 19, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      +++

  2. Posted September 19, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Churchill was a cat lover. Hitler was a d*g lover. Cats won!

    • jezgrove
      Posted September 19, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Lucky it was that way round or the swastika would be flying over London and we’d all be saying “Heil Kitler”!

  3. David Harper
    Posted September 19, 2020 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Apropos cats in Japanese art, let’s not forget the many cats who appear in the anime movies of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, such as Catbus (My Neighbour Totoro), Jiji (the wisecracking black cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service) and the entire cast of The Cat Returns.

  4. Posted September 19, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Excellent. May we never run out of cat tales.

  5. Glenda Palmer
    Posted September 19, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Most uplifting Caterday post ever. Or, maybe I just need it a little more than usual. 😺Anyway, thanks for taking the time.

  6. Barbara Radcliffe
    Posted September 19, 2020 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Love the shirt!

  7. EdwardM
    Posted September 19, 2020 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    For a bittersweet story of a Japanese-American artist who drew wonderful cats, I recommend the documentary “The Cats of Mirakatani”.

    When Jimmy Mirakatani was interned in the war he turned to drawing; people, life in the camps, but often cats. After the war he lived an odd life, partly as a cook for a Manhattan town house in the same way Chance was a gardener. He wound up on the streets of New York painting cats where he was found by the film maker covered in dust and debris on 9/11. He was gentle and kind but also a deeply bitter man who discovered his long lost sister through the making of the documentary.

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0799976/

  8. Posted September 19, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    “I’m so naive and now I’m stressed out”…

    This sounds a little like Jerry, whose duck-farming adventures have become a chore, now that Botany Pond is over-run with quackers! 🙂

  9. Posted September 20, 2020 at 1:49 am | Permalink

    In Japanese the “kanji” character for “neko” (cat) has the radical (a constituent part of all characters) for “claw” on the left (makes sense) then “grass” or vegetation at top right and “field” below it, the latter two I’m not sure why.
    It is the same in Chinese as many Japanese characters are derivative of Chinese in the same way many English words have Latin ancestry. So there you go – your Japanese writing lesson for today.
    And me showing off 🙂
    D.A., NYC
    (formerly of Tokyo)

  10. eric grobler
    Posted September 20, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Cats and ships


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