Artist/Designer Sakai Keito × Tonbo — "I wanna become a cat"

Feb 7, 2013 / Interviews

Photo:Kazuho Maruo Edit&Text:Madoka Hattori Translation: Seth High

In addition to designing for the 'Made in COLKINIKHA' fashion brand, Sakai Keito is active as a model and musician. She currently lives alongside a 12-year old female cat named 'Tonbo' ('Dragonfly'). We asked Sakai-san, who has been around cats since childhood, about the special attraction of Tonbo (and Tonbo's odd-sounding meow).

- Where did you first meet Tonbo?

"Ton-chan (Tonbo's nickname) was actually my husband's cat. Somebody got rid of her near the Prada store in Aoyama. When my husband found her, she was quite emaciated. However, he picked her up and took her to the vet. Since I got married, she's been a part of my life as well."

- Both of you being females, were there any jealousy issues when you first came to live with your husband?

"At first, I sensed that we both kind of kept our distance. We would always make eye contact. However, she would have this look that said, 'What's with this other woman?' (laughs). Whenever a guy came over to the house, it seemed that Tombo would quickly make her way up onto his lap. She would absolutely never just come up to me in this way. Fortunately, as my husband and I became more familiar with each other, Tonbo gradually started warming up to me."

- Up to now, would you say that you and Tonbo have spent more time together than she has with your husband?

"Yeah, that's probably true. However, it seems that she still likes my husband more than me. When he's not around, she acts as though she has no other choice but to be kind to me. The instant he comes home, Tonbo will go rushing over to him. Perhaps because my husband is one-and-a-half times my size, she finds his lap more relaxing."

- Before Tonbo, had you ever lived with a cat?

"Since I was a child, I've always lived with cats. We had a fluffy-haired Persian-Himalayan mix named Louise. A total tomboy, she often left the house and went outside. Louise even coupled with a neighborhood stray cat and ended up giving birth to four kittens. Though one of the kittens died as a newborn, we were able to give the others to people we knew. There was also a period when we had both a dog and a cat."

A Girlish and Maidenly Cat

- What kind of character does Tonbo have?

"Because she's never really had contact with other cats, or any animals for that matter, she tends to be very cautious. When people come over to our place, she will only gingerly make her way over to them. Moreover, she isn't very coordinated. Tonbo will even clumsily fall down from high places. Louise, on the other hand, would fight with other cats and catch sparrows. Her naughtiness was a real contrast with Tonbo."

- Tonbo's strange meow is more like a rumble... Though it may be rude to say this, doesn't it kind of sound like she's snoring?

"I don't know if it's the result of bronchitis or not, but this is her usual voice. Apparently, the first vet that she was taken to said that she has a delicate throat. Though she will occasionally throw up, it seems that her throat is no longer a problem on a daily basis."

- Does she have any favorite toys?

"Occasionally, when given presents such as ribbon, she will play with them. However, she fundamentally isn't given toys to play with. Instead, she's always running in circles chasing her own tail. Dating back to when I lived with Louise, I've never bought a cat-toy. My friends, on the other hand, will buy their cats things such as cat towers. However, I do have to say that Tonbo's favorite place is on top of our white Moroccan cushion. She's always sitting on it. Tonbo also has a thing for flowers. As soon as I put out flowers that someone has given me, Tonbo will run up and poke her nose into them. I think she has a bit of a girlish personality."

- Does Tonbo have any preferences regarding food and kitty litter?

"I bought this dish on a trip to Paris. As for food, I giver her dry food by Friskies. I keep her litter box near the toilet. It's a duo-unit box with large-grain litter from Unicharm. Because I hated how the kitty litter would get scattered about and stick to Tonbo's paws, I tried a number of different products before finally settling on large-grain litter. Fortunately, it seems that Ton-chan doesn't get very stressed out by changes in her environment. For example, when we moved into a new place, she joyously ran up and down the stairs."

Cat goods that never go out of style

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

"I love this Lisa Larson-designed ceramic cat that I received as a wedding present. There's also this cat broach that I got from the actress Yuika Motokariya. As for publications, I like the picture book titled 'Hyakumankai Ikitaneko' as well as the 'Kyo no Nekomura-san' comic book series."

- As a designer, have you ever taken up a cat motif?

"Because I love the animated film 'Kiki's Delivery Service', I designed an item in velour called 'Kiki's Muffler' about nine years ago. It sold really well. Though there has recently been a big boom in cat-related products, I think there are also a lot of longstanding cat-fans. Three years ago, I created a t-shirt that was based on an illustration of Tonbo that I had drawn. Cats seem to make their way into my work when I'm drawing pictures. When I released my book, I took part in book-signing events. When fans asked for autographs, I would ask them which they preferred, dogs or cats. Overwhelmingly, they had me draw them pictures of cats."

- When drawing cats, what are you particular about?

"When I draw pictures of girls, I like to have their eyes set apart. I also like drawing cats like this. Moreover, when I'm drawing the outline of a cat, I like to search for images of stretching cats to use as a reference."

- Do you currently have plans to create any new cat-related items?

"Right now, I'm working with a pajama maker to create a new brand of pajamas. In addition to sky and flower patterns, we're making pajamas in a cat-pattern. They'll be available at the Isetan department store in Shinjuku in March. Because the pattern involves a small illustration of a cat that I drew, I think they're the type of pajamas that anybody could wear."

Comforting people without the use of words

- Between the passing of Louise and your coming to live with Tonbo, you went over 10 years without a cat. During that time, did you ever think about getting your own?

"I really wanted a gray cat. I often looked at cat adoption websites. However, being characteristically reliant on others, I've kind of just cared for other people's cats. Louise was my parents' cat and Tonbo was initially taken in by my husband. I haven't really willfully taken in my own. That said, I think I will definitely cry when Tombo eventually passes on."

- Having lived with both dogs and cats, did you notice a big difference between them?

"I think cats suit me better. They'll be okay even if you don't look after them too much. However, they will come over when you really want to play with them. In addition to that, I'm often told that I have a cat-like personality. Fundamentally, I have a 'give me some space!' type of character. Whenever I feel like I'm being cornered, I feel a need to escape... Yet, I'm so much like a spoiled child."

- In your opinion, what is a cat's position?

"To always be there when you get home. To comfort you without having to rely on words. The ability to make someone feel better without the use of words takes cunning. There's a lot we can learn from cats. I think that I wanna become a cat. For one thing, cats can enjoy a life that's not tied to a busy schedule of social engagements. And there's another reason. If you are the cat of the person you're in love with, they will absolutely never break up with you. Without any sense of guilt, cats just act cute and comfort people. This is why I want to have a cat-like existence."

  • name: Tonbo
  • age: 12
  • sex: Female
  • lind: Mixed
  • Sakai Keito
Born in 1982, Sakai-san made her modeling debut in 'Olive' magazine in 1996. She then went on to model for numerous fashion and cultural magazines. In 2002, Sakai-san went on to found the 'Made in COLKINIKHA' brand. In addition to collaborating with companies such as Disney, Sanrio and Shiseido, Sakai-san has been active as a musician. She is currently part of the duo 'COLTEMONIKHA' alongside Yasutaka Tanaka. This spring, she will launch her new KandKate brand. The newly renovated ISETANGIRL space, which Sakai-san produced, will re-open on March 6th on the second floor of the Isetan department store in Shinjuku. At the same time, she will release her new room-wear brand, 'mille moi'. Sakai-san also held an exhibition titled 'neoteny girl' at Gallery Rocket in Shinuku. She is the author of books such as 'europikha' (published by Marbletron).