Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 50: Ode to Fuzz

35°51’04.9″N 139°39’16.3″E

We sent the initial email while sitting on a bench in Besshonuma Park, hoping to meet an animal whose profile we saw on the cat shelter’s website. The reply came so quickly it was a bit eerie. A sign? We made an appointment for the following Sunday.

For the first several months of lockdown1, we had been at home together all day, every day. Aside from the grocery and an afternoon walk for some alone time, we were just at home. We’d gotten past the early difficulty of suddenly spending so much time together, but we also had a growing feeling that, especially with this being the shape of things for the foreseeable future, we wanted to make an addition to our life. We wanted a new member.

The shelter occupied the second and third floor of a large house near the station. Much of it was set up like a conventional shelter, with rows of large cages lining the walls of former bedrooms. However, many cats—those who had the health and disposition for it—were allowed to roam freely around the place, perching upon bookcases and crowding together on the couches like so many loaf-shaped throw pillows.

We went there to meet Anko-chan, a white-patched cat in the lanky, leggy stage of mid-kittenhood. She was very, very shy and climbed up onto a high shelf in a closet, where she was intent on remaining. We decided to give her a trial all the same. Before going home that day, though, we stopped by the living room and met the dozen cats relaxing there.

There, a magnificent beast appeared before us. He had long, orange fur, a fluffy chest, and a tail like a feather duster. He came up to me immediately and rubbed against my leg, informing me not only of how friendly he was, but also how soft.

We’d seen him before, actually. On Saturday afternoons, volunteers bring several cats to the train station to entice people to adopt. Once or twice, long before we’d decided to adopt a cat, he’d been there, and we’d remarked on how beautiful he was.

But when I saw him at the shelter, I was fully captivated. It was quickly put forth that we could have a trial with him instead, if I liked, and so all thoughts of that adorably long kitten went straight out the window.

One week later, he was looking out onto our balcony, and we began to get to know one another.

Tora yawning by the bedroom window

He’s a ragamuffin, we think, and he would have been an expensive kitten at one of those pet shops still so common in Japan, the kind with fancy puppies and kittens for five grand apiece. For unfathomable reasons, his original owners abandoned him and was a stray for a while. He was apparently found in our neighborhood, too, and I have to wonder if I ever saw him during his vagrancy.

While he was stray, he evidently had a hard time. He has FIV2 now, likely having been bitten by an infected cat during a fight. His left eye was also injured at some point, and now it’s always slightly irritated and watering. Eventually, someone took him to the shelter, where he was brought back to health, and where he remained, unadopted, for a couple of years.

Adult cats are harder to find homes for, especially those with health problems.

Tora came to stay with us a bit more than a year ago, and now we cannot imagine our lives without him. He has completely won over my girlfriend, who grew up with a dog and was unsure about cats. She’s crazy about him, and he clearly likes her much more than he likes me, which is saying something, as he definitely really likes me. I’m glad about it, too. He’s thoroughly convinced her of feline greatness.

He’s a funny cat, which I realize is a bit like saying that the Pacific is a wet ocean, but I mean it. Take, for example, that he almost always uses something as a pillow when he lies down. Sometimes it’s an actual pillow, such as on the couch. Sometimes it’s a book or a slipper. Sometimes it’s something that can’t possibly be very comfortable, like a camera or even, once, a set of hex wrenches.

When he meows, it’s almost always a breathy haaaaaaaaaa, and on the rare occasion he produces something closer to a conventional meow, it’s so tiny and high-pitched that it seems absurd to be coming from such a large cat.

He’s also big on touching. He likes to be in physical contact, and it’s not enough for him to lie between us in bed or next to us on the couch. No, he must also reach out a paw and place it gently on our arms, sides, or cheeks.

Tora is part of the family. He has changed my life for the better by being present, just as Mayumi has. I hope he lives a long time, and I hope that when we have children, they love him as much as we do. I can’t see why they wouldn’t, he’s very easy to love.

Figuring out what works in life can be rather like assembling a puzzle that requires you to go and locate the individual pieces out in the world before trying to fit them together. This fuzzy puzzle piece fits perfectly into our lives and into our happiness. I’m so very glad we found each other.

Tora using my slipper as a pillow

If you’re considering getting a pet, please consider adopting an adult animal from a shelter. Adult cats and dogs are just as wonderful as younger ones, and at much higher risk of euthanasia because they’re harder to find homes for.

And if you’re in/near Saitama City and want a cat, I can gladly recommend the shelter we got Tora from. Their site is at

Finally, if you’re on Instagram and want to see more of Tora, he has his own account there. Which I update once in a while. Check it out

  1. It should be noted that, in Japan, there was never any true lockdown, in the sense of movement being restricted. Under the Japanese Constitution, that manner of limitation is impossible. The state of Emergency, however, did lead to many companies switching to remote work or closing up for a while. ↩︎

  2. Feline immunodeficiency virus, a retrovirus similar to HIV in humans, though it tends not to be deadly, and infected cats can still live fairly long and healthy lives. ↩︎

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Picture of David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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