Tag: Japan

Sunday Cats: A Cat Fluent In Sign Language?

A Reddit post with almost 30,000 upvotes claims a cat took it upon himself to learn sign language after realizing his human is deaf.

You don’t need me to tell you it’s nonsense, do you? It’s interesting how we’re willing to believe a cat can endeavor to learn sign language, but we — the supposedly more intelligent species — can’t be bothered to watch for emotions conveyed by the curl of a tail or a twitch of the whiskers.

Cats are incredibly smart little furballs, but just like the people who claim their cats are meaningfully communicating via talking boards with 100 buttons, this is just social media fodder for the credulous.

Unfortunately the credulous are numerous, although a few Redditors had a good time at their expense. One user complimented the addition of a VHS-like filter over the video clip, giving it a vintage quality.

“Not a filter. It’s been around for a while,” another Redditor responded. “The cat now knows ASL, English, French, Spanish, and is working on its doctoral thesis.”

A cat in a backpack? No, a cat backpack

In a reminder that the Japanese have an endless appetite for all things cat-related, the newest hot item among the Land of the Rising Sun’s neko-infatuated is a bespoke cat backpack hand-sewn by a housewife in Fukui prefecture.

The bags don’t come cheap. It takes Miho Katsumi between one and three months to make each one, and they’ll set you back about $1,000 each via Katsumi’s site. Check out her Instagram for more images.

How quickly do you think Bud would murder me if I came home with one of these in his image one day? 🙂

Does Your Cat Know Your Name? Study Says Maybe

I’m pretty sure Buddy does not know my name, and why should he?

He doesn’t hear my name spoken often, and in his mind I’m probably “Big Dumb Benevolent Human And Butler,” or BDBHAB. That’s a mouthful, even in meow, thus the much easier-to-say “Big Buddy.”

But a new study from Japan claims cats “possibly” know the names of their humans.

First, the parameters of the study would have eliminated the Buddies from the start: the research team from Kyoto University enlisted only cats who lived with at least two other felines. This is because they also wanted to find out if cats knew the names of their furry roommates as well.

The 48 cats who participated in the study lived in regular homes or cat cafes. The team played a recording of their human calling the name of one of their buddies, while a monitor showed an image of a cat. Sometimes the names and the images matched, and sometimes they didn’t.

The cats took longer looks at the images when the feline image shown didn’t match the name they heard, which the researchers said was indicative of surprise.

Separately, 26 cats were run through a similar experiment. In that scenario, the researchers played an audio clip of the cat’s human’s name and showed an image of either the human caretaker, or a cat. Like they did with the first experiment, cats looked longer when the images didn’t match the names, expressing apparent puzzlement.

What's your name, dude?
“I’m a Buddy, you’re a Buddy. We’re all Buddies.”

In case you’re wondering, it does seem to matter if a cat grows up in a home rather than a cat cafe. When the name and face matched, researchers called that a “congruent condition.”

“Half of the trials were in a congruent condition where the name and face matched, and half were in an incongruent (mismatch) condition,” they wrote. “Results of Exp.1 showed that household cats paid attention to the monitor for longer in the incongruent condition, suggesting an expectancy violation effect; however, café cats did not.”

The reasons are fairly straightforward. In a home setting, cats almost always interact with their human family members, while felines in cafes interact with different employees on different shifts, and with customers, who might be regulars or strangers. Either way, the cats living in homes are much more likely to hear their own names and the names of their feline roommates.

“The latter probably have more opportunities to observe interactions between the owner and each of the other cohabitating cats, which might facilitate learning of the face–name relationship,” the team wrote.

The Kyoto team pointed out that many wild animals, particularly mammals and birds, make sounds that correspond to animals, objects or abstract ideas. Monkeys and birds, for example, use a range of different calls to communicate to each other when they’ve found food or spotted a predator heading their way.

The stakes are much lower in a home setting, but evolutionary traits can still serve cats and dogs well. One reason pets may be keen to recognize the names of their furry roommates, the research team speculated, is competition. After all, Socks would want to know if Oreo is getting more treats or head scritches.

Fresh Off Binging K-Dramas, Buddy Demands Others Call Him Jeonha

NEW YORK — Buddy the Cat has taken to wearing Joseon dynasty royal robes and insisting others call him “Jeonha” — a style of address for a king which means “Your Highness” — after binging Korean historical dramas over the last several months.

The silver tabby, who once pretended to be Spanish and has previously tried to ingratiate himself with lion prides and zoo tigers, took on the persona of a king of Joseon, the historical name for the kingdom of Korea as it existed for half a millennium. The move followed an extended TV binge during which Buddy watched Netflix’s Kingdom, The Crowned Clown and Six Flying Dragons.

“Where is the Left State Councilor?” Jeonha Buddy shouted on Friday while lounging atop a replica of the famously elaborate Phoenix Throne. “The Ministry of Yums is late with my dinner once again. This will not be overlooked!”

Committing fully to his cosplay, Buddy designated each floor in his apartment building as its own “province,” appointing cats in other apartments as governors, Confucian scholars and tax officials. In addition, he created a court schedule dictating three official audiences per week, demanding reports on “the state of the cat food cupboard” and vigilance in looking for signs that a Japanese neighbor, Mr. Fuji, planned to invade his realm.

“We must not underestimate the Shogunate,” he said. “Have the Chief Secretary draw up an official mobilization order for the Five Armies so that we may have a regiment stationed along the border in case Mr. Fuji has military intentions.”

“Yes, Jeonha!” the other cats said, bowing. “Your grace is immeasurable!”

Asked on Sunday what he thought of the group of cats who stood watch outside his apartment, Mr. Fuji said: “I like cats!”

Seoul_Throne_in_Geunjeongjeon_03
Buddy’s replica Phoenix Throne. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Most of Jeonha Buddy’s royal decrees, however, have dealt exclusively with food. Royal Proclamation #11, for example, specified the size and serving time of the king’s late night snack, while Royal Proclamation #19 clarified that seafood must not be served two meals in a row, and should be served only after meals of poultry or beef.

Meanwhile, Royal Proclamation #22 sought to appoint Big Buddy as the king’s eunuch.

“You’re pressing your luck, ‘Jeonha’,” the human said, glaring at Buddy. “I still have my balls. You, however, do not.”

As of press time, Buddy consulted the basket that holds his many toys and confirmed that he did indeed still possess his balls, including one that lights up and makes a beeping sound when it’s batted around.

“My court eunuch is a liar,” Jeonha Buddy declared. “Eighty lashes for him!”

PITB Reviews: Ghostwire Tokyo: Cats Play A Central Role In This Japanese Horror Game

The premise of Ghostwire: Tokyo is simple: The entire human population of the city has vanished in some mysterious, cataclysmic supernatural event, leaving the heart of Tokyo silent, vacant and draped in an ethereal fog.

Instead of the bustle of humanity, the city is now populated by demons and yōkai, which are roughly equivalent to ghosts in Japanese folklore.

Only one human survives: Akito, our protagonist. He remains alive due to pure luck after a spirit named KK inhabits his body, intending to use it to fight the supernatural forces that have emptied Tokyo of its human inhabitants.

Akito and KK come to an uneasy truce sharing one body due to their aligned goals. KK’s presence not only allows Akito to survive the malevolent forces at work, but also imbues him with fantastic elemental powers to wield against the yōkai prowling the otherwise empty streets: He can summon wind, fire and water, and cleanse spirits and locations with Shinto prayer rituals.

Akito is set on rescuing his sister from sharing the same fate as hundreds of thousands of others, while KK spent his human life — and now his afterlife — trying to stop the mysterious figure behind the spirit invasion from harvesting human souls. For Akito to do the former, he and KK must do the latter.

Oh, and there are animals — lots of scared, confused cats and dogs who don’t know what to make of the city’s supernatural new inhabitants and don’t understand why the humans have gone missing. KK’s powers allow Akito to read animals’ thoughts.

“I can’t smell my buddy anywhere,” a confused dog tells me early in the game, whimpering as he wanders near the Shibuya scramble crossing.

It’s worth paying attention to Ghostwire’s lost pets. Feed a dog and the good boy could lead you to a cache of cash or a Jizo statue where you can say a prayer and augment your powers. Stop to pet and talk to a cat, and she might tell you a yokai is hiding nearby, disguising itself as an every day object.

True to a country obsessed with felines going back centuries, a cat isn’t always just a cat in the world of Ghostwire: Tokyo.

There are your regular domestic pets and strays, which are simply called neko, the Japanese word for cat. Akito encounters them often, comforts them and can read their thoughts with KK’s powers. Like the dogs, they’re confused, scared and hungry.

Then there are nekomata, which are the spirits of domestic cats who have become yōkai. Nekomata have made themselves at home in the absence of humans, showing their entrepreneurial spirit. The ghost cats have taken over every convenience store and kiosk in the city, urging Akito and KK to buy their snacks and supernatural wares to “be purrpared” for what awaits them.

“You’ve gotta spend money to make money,” one nekomata tells me, “so why not spend it here with meow?”

Nekomata are not to be confused with bakeneko, who are also yōkai but differ from their spirit cat cousins in subtle ways. Bakeneko can be friendly, mischievous or ambivalent, they can move without making a sound, and like nekomata they can speak and understand human language. Unlike nekomata, which have two tails, bakeneko only have one.

Finally, there are maneki neko. You’ve seen maneki neko even if you don’t realize it, probably on the counter of your local Japanese grocery, sushi house or Chinese restaurant. They’re the smiling, beckoning cats who are said to bring good fortune, health and other benefits. They’re based on the legend of a friendly cat who led a road-weary Japanese feudal lord and his men to a sanctuary just before a violent thunderstorm centuries ago, and have become ubiquitous in Japan and wider Asian culture.

For a game with a grim premise set in an empty but lived-in city, there’s plenty of bizarre humor as well. One mission has you delivering toilet paper to a human spirit who really, really needs to wipe after an epic bowel movement before he can move on and rest easy in the afterlife.

On another occasion I stopped to admire the detail and near-photorealistic beauty of a street bordering a shrine when I heard a nekomata hilariously meowing a cheerful song out of tune. When I turned toward the little cat, I saw him floating in the air and bouncing to his happy song.

As Akito, the player is tasked with lifting the fog from neighborhoods of central Tokyo, rescuing the spirits of deceased humans before they can be harvested by the demons and yōkai, and investigating the what, why and how of Tokyo’s takeover by malevolent spirits.

Akito and KK accomplish the former by “cleansing” Tokyo’s many shrines using a ritual performed at the shrine torii gates. Once a torii gate is cleansed, the fog around it subsides and more of Tokyo opens up for exploration and investigation. Meanwhile, Akito and KK must fight off yōkai to reach the floating spirits of Tokyo’s citizens, using a talisman to secure them. The duo can then “wire” the spirits to an ally outside the city, who helps return them to their bodies. The game keeps track of how many souls are saved, with the count rising to the hundreds of thousands for adept players.

The game remains true to Japanese folklore in the way it presents enemies, who are usually corruptions of human souls who have deep regrets about their lives. The spirits represent anxieties unique to, or prevalent in, Japanese society.

There are Rain Walkers, unnaturally thin salarymen toting umbrellas who advance on you inexorably, representing the angry spirits of men who spent their entire lives in service to a corporation, hardly spending time with their families or raising their kids because they work so much.

There are the Students of Pain and Misery, headless schoolgirls and schoolboys representing the spirits of teenagers whose grades couldn’t carry them into good universities, damning them to a life of tedious, low-paying jobs. Those are real concerns in a country where students spend in excess of 10 hours a day, six days a week in school. Teenagers are under enormous pressure to get top grades, and teen suicide is a major contributor to the country’s unusually high suicide rates.

Spirits of Lamentation are dangerous and move in sickeningly unnatural ways as spirits of people who were estranged from loved ones, while the small, raincoat-clad Forsaken are the spirits of abused children.

These malevolent spirits and others wander the streets, linger in alleys and leap across rooftops, but they also form groups called Hyakki Yagyo, which are parades of oni and yōkai who march through the streets of Japanese cities on summer nights, according to folklore.

Hyakki Yagyo
You’ll hear the Hyakki Yagyo before you see it, tipped off by the booming taiko drums that accompany the ghostly parade.

The arrival of Hyakki Yagyo in Ghostwire is impressively atmospheric: Lights and neon signs flicker and die out, while taiko drums boom from the mists. Then you see the spirits — yōkai with their umbrellas, massive demons, bizarre apparitions.

The first time I encountered a Hyakki Yagyo, I was so engrossed in watching the procession that I didn’t realize I was in its path until it was too late. I learned that if you get too close, the spirits yank you into an ethereal plane and surround you in numbers, determined to end your physical existence and make you one of them. Those encounters are among the most difficult in the game, but they’re also a fun test of skill.

Ghostwire gives us the most complete recreation of Tokyo in any game to date, and it’s magnificent. The metropolis extends seemingly forever in every direction, with 36 million people living a metro area that sprawls for almost 1,000 square miles. (That’s three times the size of New York with all its boroughs.)

Because of that, no game studio can handle the challenge of recreating the entire city on a 1:1 scale, and Ghostwire doesn’t attempt it. Instead the game world encompasses the famous Shibuya district and part of Minato City, two of the most bustling and famous districts in the heart of Tokyo. It’s a massive playground stretching from west of the scramble crossing, through Roppongi and all the way to Tokyo Tower.

Ghostwire is beautiful, polished and a hell of a lot of fun to play. You’re not going to find the gloriously intuitive combat of a game like Control, or even an experience like the fluid melee action of Shadow Warrior 2. Ghostwire’s combat is pedestrian compared to those games, but it becomes more fun and interesting as the game progresses and you’re given different powers and options to deal with a growing variety of ghastly enemies.

The lure of a game like this is its moody atmosphere, magnificent visuals, tense sound design and a plot that weaves hundreds of years of Japanese folklore into the mix, creating a world unlike anything else in gaming.

The writing deftly transitions between serious and funny, tense and lighthearded, and the partnership between Akito and KK allows for a running dialogue throughout the game, with the two of them asking each other questions, arguing over tasks and reacting to the craziness around them. What starts out as an uneasy alliance held together by necessity becomes grudging mutual respect and eventually friendship.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Mari, Rinko, KK’s friend Ed, and the masked protagonist. Rinko is the spirit of a woman who worked with KK in their human lives. Rinko and KK were killed for their determination, and in death they continue the fight against the malevolent spirits. Ed is a weirdo: He’s KK’s man on the outside, helping to reunite the severed souls of Tokyo with their human bodies when Akito and KK rescue them, but the only way to talk to Ed is by payphone — and even then, he only answers in recordings.

Mari is Akito’s sister, who was unconscious and helpless in a hospital when everyone vanished. More than anything, Akito wants to protect her.

Finally, there’s the man in a oni mask, the mysterious mastermind behind the supernatural takeover of Tokyo. Who is he? What does he want? Can he be defeated?

To answer those questions requires an adventure very much worth having.

Title: Ghostwire: Tokyo
Release date: March 25, 2022
Platforms: PC, Playstation 5
Audience: Mature
Cats: Many

Sunday Cats: FitBit For Felines, Plus CFA’s Top Breeds For 2021

A Japanese company that sells FitBit-like devices for cats released its first data-driven report this week and promises new revelations to come as more people buy the devices for their cats, leading to more data.

The company and its device are both called Catlog. To mark “Cat Day” in Japan, which falls on Feb. 22, researchers at the Shibuya, Tokyo-based firm issued a report saying data shows cats sleep progressively longer as they age, and cats in general sleep longer in winter.

Yeah. Not exactly a whopper.

Still, it’s one thing to know something anecdotally and another to prove it, and there are tantalizing possibilities as more kitties are equipped with Catlog. The collar-like device uses “biologging” technology to record and sort data on things like eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming and exercise. The data is relayed to caretakers via a mobile app and added to the information coming from every other Catlog, giving the research team behind the app hard data for cats across all ages and breeds.

The Catlog has received Japan’s Good Design Award, a sought-after mark of excellence among Japanese products.

Catlog
Catlog looks like a regular collar with an unobtrusive device attached.

Unfortunately Buddy won’t be contributing to that data even if Catlog pushes into the US market. Little dude won’t tolerate a collar at all and is not shy about loudly, repeatedly, incessantly communicating when he doesn’t like something. 🙁

Most Popular Cat Breeds of 2021, According to CFA

The Cat Fanciers’ Association has released its annual list of the most popular cat breeds. While the CFA recognizes 45 breeds and registers “non-pedigreed” cats as well, the list is based only on CFA registered cats. That means it provides a good snapshot of which breeds are trendy, but it’s not a definitive most popular breeds list.

Cats without a particular breed still account for the vast majority of all pet felines, but among people who registered their cats with CFA, Ragdolls were the most popular in 2021, followed by gentle giant Maine Coones and exotic shorthairs. (Note that this list does not include the fearsome and elusive Buddinese Tiger.)

2021-breeds-with-CC
The world’s largest registry of pedigreed cats has again determined the world’s most popular cat breeds, based on registrations. This year’s Top 10 list reflects the increasing popularity of certain breeds. However, registrations of ALL cats have increased substantially, reflecting the growing popularity of pet cats since the beginning of the pandemic.