One year I bought a copy of the Natsume Soseki tome, ‘I Am a Cat’, for my dad. I’d read of version of it that I assume must have been truncated, because it looked like a short story compared the Biblical brick that I sent back home. Whatever the version I read, I didn’t get it, in the sense that I didn’t get why it has become a kind of default answer to the question; What’s a famous Japanese book? For some time now I’ve been meaning to go back and give it another crack. In the meantime, I’ll take some comfort in the fact that this icon of Japanese literature has given rise to a more visual and visceral pleasure, the Bakeneko Festival (化け猫フェスティバル) held in the charming Tokyo neighborhood of Kagurazaka (神楽坂), which apparently has some relationship to Soseki's novel (I can’t remember).
Bakeneko - sort of ‘supernatural’ cats stitched into the fabric of Japanese folklore.
Bakeneko Festival - primarily a bunch of people dressed, to varying degrees, as ‘supernatural’ cats, parading down the street.
I’ll have to fess up though, until today I had no idea about the festival, and wouldn’t have been able to tell you where Kagurazaka is (except that it’s somewhere in Tokyo). Both of these former gaps in my knowledge are to my great shame, as they are both delightful (which is not something I felt about the book).
Kagurazaka itself is a fine setting for a festival. This place exudes charm. I don’t say that lightly, mostly because it’s a nauseating phrase, but it really does. For a start, I didn’t see a pachinko parlor (although there’s probably one somewhere), and the leafy main street, flanked by suitably local-looking supermarkets (fresh veg out front), quaint cafes and eateries, and independent stores makes for a fine parade thoroughfare.
Apparently, the Bakeneko Festival has developed over the years, having been fleshed out from a parade of people dressed as cats into, well, the same kind of parade and then a bit where people are invited to dance (some sort of ‘neko dance’). You don’t need to be invited to join the festivities though, everyone’s welcome so long as you’re kitted out in something feline. This isn’t a tough task really, a 100 yen-store set of ears will do. Thankfully plenty of others show more ambition than this, making for some good cosplay spotting.
If you’ve grown tired of (or should that be pent up frustrated with) Tokyo’s uni students trying out ‘sexy’ and out drink each other on the bigger Halloween parades, maybe this could be for you. Much calmer, more ‘family’, but still with a hint of the risque to give it a bit of edge.
So, if it’s on, and you’re in the area, I highly recommend you look out for the Bakeneko Festival next time around.
For now, I took some pictures of 2016’s event …
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Check out my images from Tokyo Comic Con 2016: Tokyo Comic Con 2016: Cosplay and kit in images