Announcer Sumiyoshi Miki — Life with cats means not needing words

Jul 4, 2013 / Interviews

Photo:Takeshi Shinto Edit&Text:Madoka Hattori Translation: Seth High

As a freelance announcer, Sumiyoshi Miki keeps herself extremely busy with work on programs such as TOKYO FM's 'Blue Ocean' and the serial TV program titled 'Sunday Mainichi.' She currently lives with two cats. They are a Turkish Angora called Satomi (a.k.a. 'Satokichi') and a LaPerm named 'Kurokichi.' We asked Sumiyoshi-san how she fosters wordless communication with her cats as well as what she has learned from her jolly pair of feline friends.

A Life Full of Cats

- Have you always had cats?

"When I was in elementary school, I had a chance to live in Seattle because of my father's work. One day, our neighbor's cat had kittens. One of them was given to me. So my first cat was a mixed breed black cat that looked like a bear. After we returned to Japan, I longed to have another cat. So my father went and got me a mixed Siamese-like, dark-spotted cat for my birthday. Later on, I also took in a long-haired chinchilla. So I guess you can say that I've always had cats around me. After I started living alone, I fell in love with an American Shorthair that I encountered at a pet store. It happened while I was on assignment as a rookie announcer at NHK. I was reporting on the recent pet boom. She came to live with me on Ōmisoka (New Year's eve), so I named her Miso. However, she passed away two years later... I was very sad. I thought that if I ever wanted a cat again, I would need to be much more prepared and responsible. For a while, those thoughts kept me from getting another cat."

- Then what encouraged you to take in Satomi?

"After the cat at my family home passed away, there was quite a while where I didn't have any cats around me. That's when I started hanging out at 'cat cafes'. I went to one in Nishi Koyama called 'Curl-up Cafe', and that's where I met Satomi-chan. A breeder was letting her stay there to help get her more accustomed to the outside world. The instant I encountered her, she came and curled up on my lap… it was obvious that she actually chose me (laughs). When I went back home, Satomi was all I could think about. So I ended up taking her in."

- So Satomi took advantage of your desire to have a cat. How did you meet Kurosuke?

"After taking in Satomi, my network of acquaintances at the cat cafe began to expand. I like to call them my 'cat relatives' (laughs). It's a cat-based community. These were people who would take in Satomi when I was away on long trips for work. It was where I went to get her shampooed or just to exchange all sorts of cat information. To be honest, though I've always wanted to have a black cat, I've also felt that caring for two cats at once is just too much work. Then one day I met Kurosuke at the Curl-up Cafe. My 'cat relatives' told me how wonderful it is to have two cats. (laughs). However, because I was worried that Kurosuke might not get along with Satomi, I initially took him in for just a 2-week trial. Thereafter, I could never let him go."

- You also documented your cats' activities on your blog.

"It was my first time to witness the initial encounter between two animals - and it was very interesting. They instantly started fighting the first time they met. I was worried that Satomi might hurt Kurosuke, but I guess that animals know better. Just like men, their friendship seemed to deepen after fighting."

Boys are simple-minded!?

- When you took in a second cat, was its sex something you thought about?

"All the cats I had ever had were female, so Kurosuke was my first boy. People at the cat cafe told me good things about male cats. For example, they said that male and female cats supplement and compliment each other, which makes them easier to take care of. I was also informed that male cats are cute because they spoil you more. If you place two tomcats together, however, they are likely to bump heads or ignore each other. After I actually took Kurosuke in, I discovered that boys are simple-minded. This is true for both cats and humans. (laughs)"

- At what times do you sense their differences?

"Satomi-chan is more sensitive. Both of them are very friendly. They don't mind approaching a stranger who is visiting the house. However, when something unexpected happens, Satomi-chan will invariably run and hide. On the other hand, Kurosuke will just keep on approaching as if to say, 'So what's up?'. Other than that, it's all a simple cycle of 'eat! play! eat! play! sleep!' (laughs). Satomi-chan is both more picky and more moody. Sometimes she'll be like, 'I don't feel like eating right now!'"

- A Turkish Angora and a La Perm - those are both relatively rare breeds...

"Though my first cat was a black cat of mixed breed, I came to know various kinds of cats, including American Shorthairs and Long-hairs. I saw a Turkish Angora for the first time at the cat cafe. I was moved by their grace and beauty. There are no other cats like them - long-limbed and big-eared. So cool and beautiful... I had never encountered this kind of cat. That's how I got to know Turkish Angoras. They are actually believed to be a naturally occurring breed - not an artificially created breed. They are the national cat of Turkey and can be found in zoos. Also, unlike double-coat cats such as Persians, Turkish Angoras have a single-coat of fur. This means that even if they are longed-haired, they look slim. They are also very active cats and good climbers. The LaPerm breed is characterized by their curly hair. Kurosuke is more mild-mannered than Satomi-shan. Yet, he's very cheerful."

- Kurosuke was in a cat show, wasn't he?

"We entered just for the experience. He ended up receiving a ribbon. In fact, we even won an award from an overseas National Breed Council. I didn't know such world existed, so it was very fascinating for me. However, it was a strange experience to see all the various cats waiting their turns. Like cat cafes, I have realized that there are situations where cats change people's lives and start new communities."

Cat-communication doesn't rely on words

- Do you have any favorite cat-related items?

"Though I try not to buy cat stuff, I can't help myself from checking them out. Of course, I end up buying them. This incense stand I made at a pottery class. There's a cat coffee mug that I've been using forever and there are also cat items that I received as presents from my friends. I also have a Garfield cartoon book that's been in my possession since elementary school. My favorite cat books are by Machida Yasushi and Kodemari Rui. My own cats make an appearance on the cover of the book I wrote titled 'Reward to Myself' (Gentōsha)."

- The work of an announcer requires words. Yet, cat's can't speak.

"I like silence when I'm at home. Just being together in silence... there is a certain comfort to it. We can communicate just by looking at each other. It doesn't require words. Sometimes, cats just open their mouths and do a silent meow. At such times, I just open my mouth and imitate talking. That is how our family communicates. (laughs) I believe that's all we need."

- How would you define your relationship with your two cats?

"We are heavy on physical contact. I come home and they come right up to me while meowing. No matter where I go - the kitchen, the bathroom or wherever - they follow me like it's a Great Migration. They take turns bothering me when I'm doing yoga, and we all sleep together in the same bed. When there was only one cat, our relationship was equal. But now that there are two, I feel like I'm taking care of two kids. When one is trying to pick a fight with the other, I will jump in and stop them. Their taste in food and way of playing are completely different. It has been surprising to learn how different each cat's personality is."

- Have you found that keeping cats has changed you?

"The biggest thing is a growing sense of responsibility. I am responsible for these two lives. Being living creatures, they don't always obey my will. I have to yield to them quite often. I can't just think of them as cute animals anymore. It is also very helpful to have someone who I can talk to about cat stuff - someone who can support me when things happen. And not just anybody - someone who understands things about cats. Animal caretakers experience a particular set of problems and feel a unique sense of responsibility. People who have never had pets might think 'they are only animals'. However, once you start living together, they become family. Without worries, it is nice to have people to talk with about the little things, such as what to do when cats won't eat their food, or what kinds of new toys are out there. Information from an experienced person is many times more useful than any book or magazine."

- What kind of message would you like to convey about the joy and responsibility of living alongside animals?

"We have a section regarding pets on the radio program titled 'Blue Ocean' (TOKYO FM). As much as possible, I use this opportunity to express myself. As I talk or answer questions through my media role, I always sense that the importance of taking responsibility for your animal's life is naturally conveyed through my words - even if I don't say it out loud. Moreover, I think that this kind of pet-talk is better when heard casually over the radio - at least better than listening to it straight in person. When I started working as a freelance announcer, I was given more opportunities to share the values that I cherish most dearly. However, I am also aware of the responsibility that comes with this. I think saying nothing is also a choice."

- Words are extremely valuable. However, is also a form of communication that is completely non-verbal...

"If you live with animals, there will be situations where they simply don't listen to you. They'll knock over and break a glass. Of course, even if you ask them why, you'll never get a response. You can tell them how expensive the piece was, but cats won't get it. When there is no way of controlling them, you can only wait, change your own mind, or stop caring. But humans are actually the same - it's not just animals. Because of someone or something, things won't follow the perfect plans that you draw out. When I became able to accept this and started letting myself go with the flow, I became a more tolerant person. Cats are also very good at relaxing. Just by being with them, I find that I can get more relaxed. Cats have taught me the necessity of letting go of logic and finding time to naturally relax."

  • name: Satomi (aka Satokichi) and Kurosuke
  • age: 5 years old, 2.5 years old
  • sex: female, male
  • lind: Turkish Angora, LaPerm
  • Sumiyoshi Miki
    Sumiyoshi Miki is a freelance Announcer. Born in 1973, Sumiyoshi graduated from International Christian University. She entered NHK as an announcer in 1996. After serving as chief MC of the '58th NHK Kōhaku Utagassen (2007)', and taking part in popular programs such as 'Professional Shigoto Ryugi' and 'Studio Park kara Konichiwa', she became an independent announcer in April of 2011. She makes regular appearances on the 'Blue Ocean' radio show (Tokyo FM M-F 9am) and TV programs such as the 'Ogura Tomiaki Sumiyoshi Miki Ongaku Yawa Music Yawa' (BS Asahi Sat. 11:30pm) and 'Taidan Rensai Sumikichi no Buchakedo' (Sunday Mainichi). She is also the author of 'Reward for Myself' (Gentōsha).