Creative Director Tota Hasegawa × Tsukiji — Getting Drunk on Cats

Dec 29, 2012 / Interviews

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

In addition to being a member of the London-based TOMATO collective, Tota Hasegawa works as Executive Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo. While shuffling between his responsibilities in London and Tokyo, Hasegawa lives alongside his beloved 7-month old kitten, Tsukiji. Back in London, he also keeps a black cat named 'Ink'. We were able to ask him about what it's like to keep pets in both England and Japan.

Unable to stand life without cats

- Didn't you originally get a cat when you were in London?

"At my house in London, I still have a black cat named 'Ink'. Since last year, I've had to live away from home in order to work in Tokyo. Though I initially connected daily with Ink via Skype, I started missing felines so badly that I was about to start following the cats I encountered in the street (laughs). When I was unable to stand it anymore, I decided that, as an adult, I could do whatever I wanted. So I got another cat in Tokyo."

- How did you come to take in Tsukiji?

"I met her at an event that was held by an organization that places cats with foster families. It took place in the Tsukiji area of Tokyo. That's how she got her name. Tsukiji is still just seven months hold. I've now had her for about 2 months. To tell the truth, I went to the event in Tsukiji in order to take home a black cat. However, when I first saw the mish-mash pattern on her face, I thought it might be difficult for her to find a family. Black cats are always popular. When I realized how unfortunate she would be if no home was found for her, I decided to take Tsukiji in. After spending time with her, I've acquired a taste for her unique pattern in the same way that people come to like a special piece of pottery."

- What kind of cat is the London-dwelling Ink?

"One of my wife's friends happens to run a farm. When their cat had five or six kittens, we took one of them in. I've raised Ink from the time he was a kitten and now he's already 2 years old. Compared to the cats in England, it's my impression that Japanese felines have longer legs. Tsukiji's tail is long and her legs are straight. Ink, on the other hand, has chubby paws. He also loves mischief. In this way, I've come to sense the difference between male and female cats. Tsukiji is kind of mawkish - she'll perform antics that kind of remind me of a geisha. Unrelenting in her need for attention, Tsukiji is a little on the dependent side. Because Ink was just a kitten when I moved Tokyo, I'm always surprised by how big he is whenever I go back to London. Because I'm only back there two or three times a year, I still have this image of him as a cute little kitten."

- After not meeting for a while, does he forget about you?

"I don't really know if cats remember people or not. Because they have friendly characters, my cats won't shy away from me even if I haven't seen them in a while. Considering that food is always Ink's top priority, he'll probably warm up right away to anyone who feeds him. Tsukiji, on the other hand, isn't so driven by food. When I get home, she's more like, 'Play with me!' She'll even bring a toy over to me. Most likely, the people who previously took care of her always made sure she had plenty of food. I doubt she even knows what it's like to be hungry."

- Before you took in Ink, had you ever lived with a cat?

"Because I always lived in flats growing up, my family wasn't able to have pets. However, I definitely did have an interest in cats. I always thought they were cute. Because I was able to rent a big house in the English countryside, it finally became possible for me to keep a cat. In fact, nowadays both my father and my cousin have cats. I guess I come from a cat-loving family."

- Since coming to actually live with cats, have you made any new discoveries?

"They heed my call less than I had expected. When I want a cat's attention, it won't come over. Conversely, it seems that my cats always come up to me when I especially don't want to be bothered (laughs). When I'm sleepy or tired, they'll run up to me all excited... However, when I call them over to play, I'll be completely ignored. It's probably this fine sense of timing that has allowed cats to live so long beside humans."

The State of Pet-keeping in Japan and England

- Does Tsukiji have any favorite toys??

"Because she's still a kitten, Tsukiji loves to play. She's constantly running around and chasing after this cellophane enhanced cat-teaser that I have. She'll come up to me and beg, 'Let's play! Let's play!' She will even try to guess what I'm about to do next and place toys in front of me. It's amazing how closely Tsukiji is always watching me. There's also this build-it-yourself cat tower that I bought on Amazon. She really likes climbing all the way to the top."

-Is there any difference between cat-related goods in Japan and England?

"Cat-related items are quite cheap in Japan. Moreover, there are a lot of different variations. As for food, I can get vacuum-sealed packs of fish in Japan. I bring them back to London as a coming-home present for Ink. To be honest, I don't really have much preference when it comes to the design of cat-goods. However, I am a little curious as to why there are so many items with strange contours. I bought Tsukiji's litter box at Kojima. It's the type that comes with a lid. When it's closed, there isn't much of an odor. In London, I simply pour kitty-litter into a wooden box. For food, I give Tsukiji a half-half blend of wet and dry Royal Canin. She's also served soft water. Because Ink had a urethral stone, I now give him a special type of dry food."

- When it comes to the relationship between people and their pets, I wonder if there are differences depending on what country you are from...

"I don't think people in England are as doting on their pets. Of course, they are serious about taking care of their pets. However, it seems like the characters of Japanese people change when they are dealing with their pets. For example, I will suddenly start talking in baby language to my cats (laughs). I don't think there are many people like that in England. However, there is a special type of job called a 'cat sitter'. When people go away, sitters will come over to their houses and take care of their cats. In addition to feeding them and tending to the litter boxes, cat sitters will spend about an hour playing with the cats. Because the cats kind of belong to the houses they live in, owners will rarely place their cats in the care of others when they travel."

- Few places other than Japan have actual 'pet shops' where you can buy dogs and cats.

"In England, the feeling of animal welfare is probably quite strong. If you want a dog or cat, you will most likely take in a kitten from a friend or go to an animal welfare center. Before they give you a pet, they will do a strict background check to make sure you can take care of the animal. Another impression that I have is that there are few apartments in England that have a 'no pet' policy. This is one of the difficulties of having a pet in Japan."

Showing your true character in front of cats

- Are there any cat-related books or items that you particularly like?

"I often read books such as 'The Cat Inside' by William Burroughs and Kurt Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle'. I also like essays by writers who had their own cats, like Uchida Hyakken and Akasegawa Genpei. Isn't it a great feeling to read essays about cats while taking care of your own? It's like, yeah, I got my cat! (laughs). The feeling is probably similar to eating delicious sushi while watching a gourmet food program on TV. At the shop my family runs, Bunkaya Zakkaten, they carry things such as pouches and cushions with Ink's image printed on them. My dad's cat is also on a number of other goods."

- When you return to London in the future, will you take Tsukiji with you?

"If you apply ahead of time, you're allowed to take cats with you on the airplane as a carry on. That said, I already decided that Tsukiji is my Tokyo cat. Certainly, I don't think that she has ever thought about going abroad (laughs)."

- You seem like the kind of person who wants to keep some distance between you and your cat...

"That's not really true. As soon as this interview is over, I'll suddenly change and get all soft for my cats. I sometimes talk about felines for hours upon hours with other cat-keeping friends. Once, I wrote about the scientific basis for this in a column in 'Web Designing' magazine. My column was based on an article that was originally published in the New York Times. Apparently, cats are host to a parasitic toxoplasma that is unable to reproduce after it has entered the human body. Wanting to return to its original feline host, the parasites will influence the human brain mechanism and make people want to have more frequent contact with their cats. Therefore, the theory implies that liking cats and wanting to be near them is not as much a psychological need as it is a scientific phenomena. Of course, this is just an excuse for my being so crazy about cats (laughs). Being with a cat makes me a more interesting talker. It's just like when I'm drunk. I guess that I become compelled to show my true character when I'm with cats."

  • name: Tsukiji
  • age: 7 months
  • sex: Female
  • lind: Mixed
  • Tota Hasegawa
    Hasegawa was born in Tokyo in 1972. He completed his master's course at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1997. Following graduation, he worked at institutions such as the Sony Design Center and Sony CSL Interaction Lab. In 2000, Hasegawa entered the London-based design collective, TOMATO. Since 2011, he has also been employed by Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo as Executive Creative Director.