Category: Japan

Cats In Games: Yakuza Kiwami 2

I’d been playing Yakuza Kiwami 2 for only a few minutes when I stopped and did a double-take.

My in-game character was standing in the exact same spot I’d been standing in real life six months ago, in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.

Here’s Karaoke Kan on that street corner in the game:

Shinjuku in Yakuza Kiwami 2
Shinjuku in Yakuza Kiwami 2.

And the same corner in real life:

Karaoke club in Shinjuku, Tokyo

The game’s recreation of Tokyo is impressive, featuring a replica of the Shinjuku district that feels alive, buzzing with activity and undiscovered adventures.

Here’s Shinjuku’s Don Quijote in the game alongside the real one in Tokyo:

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Don Quijote in Shinjuku.

Japan is arguably the most cat-friendly country in the world, with cat imagery everywhere, cats as pop culture icons, pet parents pushing their coddled kitties in designer strollers on the streets of Tokyo, and entire islands populated almost exclusively by cats.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before the game brought a cat into the mix, and it didn’t disappoint. In one scene, a character asks you to find his dear little girl who has been kidnapped, and you’re under the impression you’re searching for his daughter — right up until you find the kidnappers, give ’em a good old Yakuza beatdown, and realize your acquaintance’s “little girl” is actually a cat:

A cat in Yakuza Kiwami 2
A cat in Yakuza Kiwami 2.

The game, which is little-known in the US but hugely popular in Japan, also features a, shall we say, less amiable encounter with cats:

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Now would be a good time to run!

The Many Styles of Cat Fu

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Welcome, young grasshopper.

For the next 10 years, these temple walls will be your home. Before you return to the realm of man and cat wearing the orange robes of a true sifu, you will learn the many styles of cat fu!

Dissatisfied With Wet Food Technique:

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“You dare feed me tuna? Prepare to die!” Primarily deployed against humans, this style is effective in registering displeasure at meal time. It should be accompanied by a shrill, as-annoying-as-possible meow.

 

Invisible Skateboard Style:

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“Tony Hawk is an amateur who cannot defeat my style!”

Stance of the Five Bladed Bitch-Slap:

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“Step away from my treats!” A powerful stance to strike fear into the hearts of cats and humans alike. The extended claws signal you mean business.

Toxoplasma Gondii Technique

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A true cat fu Master need not use his fists, for he is able to control and manipulate the minds of simple creatures like humans.

Whirling Tuxedo Style:

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“You steal my Temptations? Prepare to die!”

Can Opener Fist of Doom:

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If this technique were not so difficult to master, humans would be rendered obsolete.

Flying Strike of Wake Me Up and Feed Me Breakfast:

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“You dishonor your family by sleeping until 5:59 a.m. Get out of bed and feed me breakfast, or feel the full extent of my wrath!”

Soiling Tiger Style:

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“You shall rue the day you chose not to clean the litter box.”

Stop Petting Me Before I Bite You Technique:

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“I enjoyed the petting and now demand that you stop, human.”

Stance of the Broken Wand Toy:

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“Better get to the pet store and buy me a new one, or else…”

Inebriated Catnip Boxing Style:

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“Oh man, this is good stuff. Who’s got the munchies?”

Crouching Tabby, Hidden Buddy Style:

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“This is stealth, not cowardice. My enemies cannot see me because I am inside a bag!”

Lazy Claw Technique:

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“We shall have our duel after I finish my nap!”

Photographs of kung fu cats taken by Hisakata Hiroyuki. Photos of lazy Buddy by me.

Japan’s Traffic Safety Video…For Cats

This is apparently the work of road safety experts who collaborated with animal psychologists, and not a Jackson Galaxy fever dream after half a pint of absinthe.

Naturally, it was made in Japan.

The animal psychologists are from Kyoto University and the traffic safety experts are from Yellow Hat, which is kind of like the Japanese version of AutoZone. The video’s makers say their feline “narrator” was chosen because other cats responded most to his voice during tests, and both the sound and visuals were designed to draw — and keep — feline attention.

Okay then.

Asakusa: The Market Temple

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:13-16

Growing up Catholic, I heard the story of Jesus furiously expelling the money-changers and merchants from the temple at least a few times a year in church gospels.

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“Christ casts out the money-changers” by Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch.

The message was clear: Houses of worship are supposedly to be solemn and hushed places where people can speak to God in peace.

Sensō-ji temple is quite the opposite.

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Sellers hawk overpriced gifts for tourists en route to Sensō-ji temple.

Sensō-ji is not only Japan’s oldest temple, it’s one of the most-visited spiritual sites in the world, with an estimated 30 million annual visitors.

It’s also one of Tokyo’s most-accessible shrines, just a short walk from a subway stop in Asakusa. All that foot traffic makes it irresistible for local merchants, who sell everything from traditional lanterns to t-shirts, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and hats.

On the day I visited a steady rain hadn’t put a dent in the mixed crowd of locals and tourists.

A giant lantern hangs beneath the temple gate, which was rebuilt in 1960 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. While most of the structures at Sensō-ji are reproductions, the area has been a religious site for more than 1,000 years.

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The temple grounds are a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.

 

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A shopping mall featuring eateries, gift shops and a sword smith.

Shinjuku: Godzilla, Government, Shopping and Sex Clubs

“Hey man!”

I turn to look. This is the first bit of English I’ve heard all evening, and sure enough it’s directed at me, the blue-eyed, red-brown-haired, bearded ‘Merican who couldn’t blend into the crowd if I had a human-size Cuisinart.

“Come check it out,” says the speaker, a sharply-dressed guy in his 30s, gesturing toward a drinking establishment just off one of Shinjuku’s busiest streets. “I’ve got the girl of your dreams inside. You like Japanese women?”

“We’re good,” my brother says.

The salesman ignores him, singing his pitch like an R&B ballad.

“You like Japanese women, man? I know you do. We got Japanese women waiting to meet American guys.”

Shinjuku at night
Shinjuku at night.

My trust in my brother is absolute, this bar dude is acting sketchy as hell, and I’m not that much of an idiot, so I take my bro’s cue and follow him toward the intersection.

“What was that all about?”

The guy who approached us was an extortionist, my brother explained. They’ll invite you into the club, let you order a few drinks but neglect to tell you the drinks are 10,000 yen each, or about $90 USD. If you refuse to pay they’ll call Tokyo police, who will take the word of a local business owner over the word of a tourist in what they see as a legitimate dispute.

“Or they’ll spike your drink,” my brother said, “take all your cash and run your credit cards to the limit.”

Shinjuku at night
In Shinjuku even the side streets are illuminated.

Japan’s not the kind of place where you worry about pickpockets or getting jumped by local thugs, but it’s a mistake to assume crime doesn’t exist here.

Tokyo may be one of the world’s safest cities, a place where you can leave your door unlocked or leave your bike unattended while confident no one will steal it, yet tourists are universal easy prey.

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While walking through Shinjuku’s busy streets I was reminded of an interview with the great novelist David Mitchell, who spent several years in Japan teaching English before returning to the UK.

Moving through Tokyo as a westerner unable to decipher Japanese writing, Mitchell noted, is like being cocooned in your own personal anti-advertising buffer. All that hiragana and katakana written in neon might as well be mood lighting — it’s there, but if you can’t understand it, it can’t invade your headspace.

Mitchell said he found that obliviousness calming and conducive to keeping to his own thoughts on writing. Being there in person and experiencing it for myself, I could appreciate his point.

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Memory Lane, also known as Piss Alley, is lined with tiny restaurants.
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A cook preps skewers of meat in one of Shinjuku’s narrow-alley barbecue spots on Memory Lane, which are only big enough to accommodate a few patrons at a time.
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Another alley leading out of Memory Lane, a narrow alley lined with tiny eateries specializing in yakitori (barbecue skewers).
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Memory Lane is narrow, smoky and heavy with the smell of grilled meat.

Another famous feature of Shinjuku is the giant Godzilla head, which looks like the King of Monsters is looming just behind a pair of buildings overlooking the neighborhood’s central crossing.

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Godzilla himself peeks out from behind a pair of buildings overlooking Shinjuku. Photo credit: Tokyo Creative