I’d been in Japan for almost two weeks last year when I dialed back to the States on a Facetime call and my mom — who had been taking care of Buddy in my absence — held Bud up to her iPad.
“Someone wants to say hi to you,” she said.
Buddy looked at me, then tentatively blinked with one eye. When I returned the blink, he meowed excitedly, reaching a paw out to the screen.
Aside from making me feel bad about leaving my cat for so long, the exchange between Bud and I seemed to confirm the importance of the slow eye-blink in feline-human communication. It also confirmed that he missed me.
Now there’s a formal study that, for the first time, shows cats are more relaxed and more likely to approach humans — even strangers — if they’re greeted with a slow blink. Cats also like to reciprocate with a slow blink of their own when greeted that way, the study found.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat-human communication,” said Karen McComb, a psychologist from the University of Sussex and co-author of the study. “And it is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street. It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats. Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation.”
Why does a slow blink put cats at ease?
Tasmin Humphrey, a Ph.D. student and study co-author, said it’s “possible that slow blinking in cats began as a way to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in social interaction.”
The researchers say their results could help people communicate more clearly with their cats, and could be useful in shelters, where staff and volunteers are often tasked with trying to calm scared cats.
One of the highlights of my trip to Japan last summer was Gotokuji Temple, the famous “cat shrine” in Tokyo’s Setagaya suburb.
Gotokuji is home to thousands of statues of maneki-neko, or “beckoning cat,” an important and ubiquitous image in Japan: Statues of maneki-neko adorn shops and virtually every public place in Tokyo, but Gotokuji is where the legend of the beckoning cat was born. Visitors write prayers on the statues and ask for good luck for a variety of venture, from opening new businesses to getting married.
There is, however, only one current feline resident at Gotokuji, while Kyoto’s Nyan Nyan Ji — literally “meow meow shrine” — is populated exclusively by feline “monks,” who wear monkly garb and take their duties — especially napping, er, meditating — very seriously.
The most recognizable of them is Koyuki, the chief cat priestess at Nyan Nyan Ji.
Here are some photos, all courtesy of the temple’s Instagram, showing what life is like for Koyuki and her fellow priests:
When an elderly Japanese man fell into an irrigation channel and couldn’t get out under his own power, it was a cat who got the attention of a neighbor, leading to the man’s rescue.
The incident happened at 7:30 p.m. on June 16 in Toyoma, a city of about 413,000 people about 300 miles northwest of Tokyo on Japan’s main island, Honshu.
Koko the cat, a gray tabby, managed to catch the attention of a 77-year-old neighbor, leading her to the spot where the man had fallen into the irrigation channel, Kyodo News reported. The neighbor enlisted the help of her daughter — Koko’s owner — Tomoyo Nitta, and her two grandsons — ages 20 and 18 — who pulled the victim to safety.
Civic duty is a big thing in Japan, and Japanese police agencies in turn honor civilians who go out of their way to help or rescue others. (US police agencies, which are desperately trying to repair their tense relationship with regular Americans, could learn a thing or two from the Japanese model of community policing.)
The humans involved got an official calligraphic thank-you citation from the cops, while Koko got cat food. We’re sure she’s not complaining about her reward.
“I want to tell her well-done,” Nitta said, cradling the usually shy Koko in her arms during the brief recognition ceremony on June 28.
Back in 1 AB (that’s After Bud, for those of you who don’t use the Buddesian Calendar) my mom got me a copy of A Streetcat Named Bob, which told the story of a recovering heroin addict and the cat who literally walked into his life.
James Bowen was in a rehab program and was living for the first time in his own apartment when the injured but insistent orange tabby showed up at his door. Though dirt poor, Bowen scraped together enough money from busking — playing his guitar in public for tips — to bring Bob to the veterinarian and buy the basics he’d need to care for the cat.
After adjusting to life inside the apartment with James, Bob decided one day he’d accompany his human to work, which for James meant standing outside major metro hubs and hawking a magazine called The Big Issue. For our readers who aren’t familiar with the magazine, The Big Issue exclusively employs the homeless and the struggling as magazine vendors, offering them an opportunity for employment when they might not otherwise be able to secure it.
Bob turned out to be an unflappable cat, calmly riding on James’ shoulders as they took the bus to James’ assigned vendor location. Whether perched on James shoulder or standing next to him, Bob became a fixture by James’ side, handling the crowds and the interested passersby with a calm not usually associated with cats.
Soon word spread of the magazine salesman with “The Big Issue cat.” A local newspaper ran a story about James and Bob, then a few Youtubers visited the duo on the street, uploading videos of man and cat selling magazines and busking for extra money.
One of James and Bob’s biggest breaks came when Sir Paul McCartney heard their story and visited them in person as they were hawking magazines in London.
From there, as the Legend of Bob grew, a shrewd literary agent saw potential in the story of the recovering addict and the cat, and inked Bowen to a book deal. The rest is history: The book propelled James and his feline friend to stardom, leading to a handful of additional books, a cartoon and a 2016 movie about the duo.
“He taught me that I had to buckle up…because he was following me around and stuff like that, I had to take responsibility for him,” Bowen recalled in a 2016 interview. “I didn’t know it then, but the love that he was giving me was helping me to change my ways.”
For many people, the story of James and Bob represented not only the unconditional love between cat and human, but also hope and the promise of second chances in life.
Bud is no Bob — he’d run screaming at a book signing with hundreds lined up to greet him — and I’m no James, but my mom thought I’d enjoy the book because I was also going through a tough time when I adopted Buddy — though nothing as dramatic as James’ situation — and like James I found a measure of peace in taking care of my cat, which allowed me to look outward and gave me a responsibility that took my mind off my own problems.
After finishing the book I pulled up a few of the early videos of James and Bob on Youtube and, among the streetside interviews and other clips, I found a vid of James and Bob appearing on a British morning television show.
For the most part the interview went the way you’d expect those things to go: James and Bob were there to promote their book, James gave Bob a treat in exchange for a high-five, and the questions were rote.
All except one, when the male anchor turned to James and asked him if he’s thought about what he’ll do when Bob dies.
As his female co-anchor stared daggers at the man, James swallowed, hesitated, and said he doesn’t like to dwell on that thought, that he prefers to focus on the moment, being grateful for having Bob in his life and appreciating him.
At the time the eventuality of Bob’s death seemed remote. No one was sure how old Bob really was, but veterinarians estimated he was eight or nine years old.
Now, at age 14, Bob has passed away.
Bob’s fans are legion: They lined up in their hundreds and thousands for his book tours, they sent thousands of scarves as gifts to the orange tabby and they made him the most celebrated cat in the UK.
Now they’re flooding The Big Issue with condolences and letters about Bob, and we hope James takes comfort from the fact that his little buddy touched so many lives.
Bowen, understandably, is devastated.
“There’s never been a cat like him. And never will again,” he said. “I feel like the light has gone out in my life. I will never forget him.”
For the rest of us, it’s a reminder that our cats are only with us a short while, and that there will come a day when we wish they’re still around to annoy us by jumping on our keyboards or rousing us from sleep with urgent meows for breakfast.
Appreciate them. Love them. And pay attention to them, which is all they really want from us.
TOKYO — Buddy was uninjured after his tour bus was besieged and overturned by a massive crowd of screaming Japanese school girls, the famous cat’s representatives said Sunday.
Buddy, who touched down Friday in Tokyo for his “Got 2 Have Turkeys” tour, was en route to a performance and album signing in Shibuya Tower Records on Saturday afternoon when his tour bus was blocked by a phalanx of paparazzi. A large crowd that had assembled outside the store gravitated toward the street, surrounding the bus and making it impossible for the vehicle to escape in reverse.
“At first it was just normal stuff: The crowd chanting for Buddy, girls throwing their bras at the windows, boys calling out for autographs,” said MC Kibble, who has been touring with Buddy as the opening act and hype cat. “But when I felt the bus lurch, I knew we were in deep litter. The shit hit the sand, so to speak, and we got jolted around pretty good when they shoved the bus onto its side.”
The crowd was dispersed by Tokyo Metropolitan Police as paramedics arrived and cleared the bus. One roadie suffered a fractured rib, authorities said, but most of the occupants made it out with only a few scrapes and bruises.
An ambulance took Buddy to an undisclosed hospital, where he was discharged after only an hour.
“It was just a precautionary measure,” said the celebrity cat’s human servant, Big Buddy. “We had to make sure His Grace was in top shape before he continues his tour.”
Buddy is scheduled to perform for sold-out crowds at Saitama Super Arena on Monday and Sapporo Concert Hall in Hokkaido on Tuesday before heading to Hong Kong for the next leg of the “Got 2 Have Turkeys” tour.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.