Novelist Mitsuyo Kakuta × Toto — 'The Reason I Live with a Cat'

Oct 13, 2011 / Interviews

Photo:Shin Suzuki Edit&Text:Madoka Hattori Translation: Seth High

Mitsuyo Kakuta is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the Naoki Prize-winning 'Taigan no Kanojo' as well as 'Kuchu Teien' and 'Yo-kame no Semi', which were both made into motion pictures. She currently resides alongside Toto, her 20-month-old American short hair kitten. Without even a hint of shyness, caught Toto going to the bathroom on camera for the first time. We all found his relaxing aura to be therapeutic.

More of a 'Dog-Person' than a 'Cat-Person'

— How did you first come across Toto?

"When I met the manga artist Rieko Naibara for the first time, she asked me out of the blue, 'If my cat has kittens, do you want one?' Nishihara-san has a pair of American shorthairs. Because there were six people waiting for kittens ahead of me, I doubted that my number would ever come up. However, about a year later she contacted me saying that the 7th kitten had been born. So I picked Toto up and he came to be mine."

—Had you ever had a cat before?

"My husband had kept a cat before, but I had only lived with birds and other small animals. Actually, I have been a dog-lover since way back... I thought that if I ever got another pet, it would be a dog. Even now, it still feels kind of strange for me to have a cat."

— Now that you actually live with a cat, have you made any new discoveries?

"Because I really didn't know anything about cats, everything is a new surprise. I initially thought that cats aren't very affectionate, and compared to dogs, not good at communicating their feelings. However, I was totally surprised by how friendly Toto is with people. Moreover, dogs always make a lot of noise when they move, with their loud footsteps and panting, but cats are completely silent. It's really mysterious. It's only since the arrival of Toto that I came to realize that all cats have completely different characters and faces."

—Please tell us about Toto's character.

"Because he gets lonely so easily, I will find him waiting for me in the entryway when I return home. Sometimes I catch him acting. When I return from outside, he will dash to the front door, where he will lay down and pretend to ignore me. He also jumps up onto the sink - even though he knows he's not allowed to - just to get my attention. I had heard that cats will do fine even if you don't look after them for several days. However, because Toto has a heart condition, I have to feed him regularly and get him his medicine. His dislike of being along also makes it hard for me to stay away from home for long."

A thick-skinned yet sensitive character?

—Because of his heart condition, I imagine he can't play around much.

"Because Toto can't run around much, his options for playing are limited. Yet, it seems as if he always wants to play. Toto will bring me a toy as if to say, 'Let's play with this'. Because he will begin panting even if he runs just a little, I will shut the doors of the room in which we are playing in order to forcibly shorten his running distance. I really wish that I could let him play more. However, his immune system is so weak that he will get conjunctivitis if I let him out on the veranda."

—Toto sounds quite sensitive.

"Actually, he is pretty thick-skinned. Toto can also be quite dull about various things (laughs). He's not at all scared of strangers. When a delivery person rings the doorbell, Toto will head to the entryway in order to greet them. When I come home from shopping, he will inevitably stick his head in the bags to check out what I got. Once, when I had to go on a trip, I left him at my friend's house. Because he had so much fun there, Toto didn't want to come back home with me after I returned - he retreated from me (laughs). Although you wouldn't expect it, Toto would probably be okay if you left him with anyone."

—Does he have any preferences regarding food?

"After I had him neutered, he suddenly started putting on weight. Therefore, I'm now giving him diet cat food from Royal Canin. For his heart condition, I also give Toto 3 types of medicine - an enzyme that he drinks from a dropper, an herbal medicine that I hand roll into balls, and a kind of medicine that I mix with his food. In addition to his crunchy dry food, I bought him a variety of expensive canned foods. However, the only canned food that he will actually touch is a type that costs less than 100 yen (laughs). Toto has absolutely no interest in human food. Even when we offered him some fried saury (fish), he would have nothing to do with it. This forced my surprised husband to exclaim, 'I've never seen a cat like this.'"

—Does he have any favorite toys?

"I put some paper in the cat house that someone gave me. He loves hitting the paper and making a crinkling sound. Toto also often likes to play with rolled up paper tube when I put a light at the other end. Other things that he likes to play with include shopping bags and a ball that I made from his own hair after brushing him. Because I fundamentally don't buy cat toys, most of the toys we have at home are presents, such as a wire toy and a black mouse springy toy. The only thing that I actually bought for him was a cat tower. Toto always sleeps on its top rung. Toto also has a cat scratcher that he only uses when he is hungry or trying to express his displeasure about something."

—Do you collect cat-related goods?

"I pretty much only have the things that I bought before I took in Toto. I have a dislike for goods with characters on them. I can't help but wonder why such things exist (laughs). However, since coming to have my own cat, my eyes have somehow become attracted to them... I can't help myself from buying things like cat-shaped earrings."

Writing about life with a cat

—It seems that there has always been a number of authors who have lived with cats. There have also been quite a few stories and essays in which cats appear.

"Before I had my own cat, whenever I read such books, I didn't find myself thinking, 'Oh, I really like cats.' Now, however, I feel such books are so interesting. Take Ko Machida's 'Neko ni Kamakete', for example. I probably wouldn't have picked it up if I didn't have my own cat, but the way he writes about the cowardly cat is really so interesting. Moreover, when I re-read Yumiko Oshima's 'Wata no Kunihoshi' after getting Toto, it was completely different. It became really precious to me. Before, I didn't think that I could truly communicate with a cat. However, since living with Toto, I have come to understand that I could feel love for a cat."

—Do you have plans to write a novel about a cat?

"Though I haven't written it yet, I think I definitely will someday. I truly feel admiration for the way Machida-san writes about cats. It's not good to merely write about how cute cats are. If you can't write with the skill of someone like Machida-san, I think it will be hard to write about one's own cat. For example, because Toto is the only cat I have ever lived with, I used to think that cats don't have stinky breath. However, one time, my husband said, 'Cats like Toto, ones without smelly breath, are rare." From that time on, whenever I visited homes with cats, I began to smell their breath. If I write, 'My cats breath isn't stinky', it will merely be a form bragging. On the other hand, if I write, 'I went around sniffing the breath of different cats', it will be something more interesting. I have come to think about writing in this way."

A living thing named 'Toto'

—What's your ideal relationship with a cat?

"I want a relationship that is independent and not overly affectionate. At first, Toto hated his medicine, but he got used to it after a while. Cats can accept everything. I often had to take Toto to the veterinarian for things like health checks and to have him neutered. Recently, he has come to patiently sit down and wait through the procedures. Even though being taken to the vet is unpleasant, he seems to understand that, 'If I am patient, it will soon be over.'"

—What is the meaning of having a cat?

"One cannot choose their own family. I guess I mean that one cannot intentionally choose their family. But, I think there is always a 'bond' or 'reason'. Regarding animals, because people can choose whether or not to have a pet, I used to think of this as something different from 'fate' and 'destiny'. However, having a cat come into my home, which is something I could never have imagined happening, has become a major event in my life. Therefore, I now strongly believe that Toto coming to live with me couldn't be anything other than fate. When I see other cats, I start thinking about Toto. I become unable to see Toto as a cat. I sense that he's not a 'cat'. He in no way resembles what people generally think of as a 'cat'. He's not a cat or a human - he's an individual named 'Toto'. He's a living thing named 'Toto'."