Tag: travel

Cats Are The Monks At This Japanese Temple

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:

Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(11)

Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(2)
“This is how it’s supposed to be, humans: You kneeling before us. Those ancient Egyptians had it right.”
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(5)
“I can call upon powerful minions to smite you whenever I please.”

Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(10)

Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(9)
“Tiny humans are permitted to touch my holy personage.”
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(4)
“And here is the nursery, where it’s currently reading time for our kittens…”
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(3)
“Walk with me on the path to deliciousness…”
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(8)
“Read the sign! We’re not open until I says so. Now if you please, I have napping to do.”

Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(7)
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(13)
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(12)
Screenshot_2020-08-12 ねこ地蔵とおる ( nekojizo) is on Instagram(4)


Hotels With Cats: Getting Your Cat Fix On Vacation

As any cat owner servant knows, traveling is tough.

Not only do you have to make accommodations for your feline overlord(s) — including finding a reliable cat-sitter and writing a 32-page guide to properly caring for your kitties — there’s the issue of separation anxiety on both sides.

How can I sleep without Buddy using me as a mattress and walking on my face when he wants me to get up? Quite well, actually, but that’s beside the point.

A new site, Hotels With Cats, profiles resorts, hotels, AirBnBs and other accommodations throughout the world that feature cats on-premises. It’s basically a directory of cat-lovers who run hotels, for cat-lovers who love to travel.

Ashleigh Mills, the site’s founder, says she came up with the idea on a 2017 trip to Bali. While she was spending six glorious weeks in one of the Earth’s most beautiful places, she also missed her two cats terribly.

That’s when Tiger stepped in. The friendly tabby cat belongs to the people who run Geria Giri Shanti bungalows, and he served as Ashleigh’s feline companion for the duration of her stay.

“His presence soothed me when I missed my own cats,” Ashleigh wrote. As a bonus, “I knew I was giving my business to fellow animal lovers which was a good feeling as well.”

Tiger the Tabby Cat
Tiger: A cat on a permanent vacation with a rotating cast of humans to cater to his needs. Credit: Hotels With Cats

Thus far Hotels With Cats has profiled kitty-occupied hotels, lodges and seaside bungalows in Greece, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the US of A.

Buddy Is Angry!
“You’re telling me you’re going to relax in the sun on some pristine beach while I sit here at home waiting for the cat-sitter to come by and shovel slop into my bowl? No way, dude. I’m coming with you.”

Your own cats might not be too keen on the deal. After all, they’re left at home without their favorite humans. But sometimes it’s okay to lie to your cats, and in this case a little fib — “Oh, there were no cats where we stayed!” — could prevent furry little egos from getting bruised.

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.


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.

Memory Lane, also known as Piss Alley, is lined with tiny restaurants.
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.
Another alley leading out of Memory Lane, a narrow alley lined with tiny eateries specializing in yakitori (barbecue skewers).
Shinjuku: Memory Lane
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.

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


Taking Care of Buddy: A Guide

Congratulations! You have been entrusted with the greatest responsibility of your life: Taking care of Buddy the cat!

Buddy is a stubborn young lord who likes things just so and is accustomed to many comforts, so it will be your job to anticipate his needs, see to his whims and keep him content in addition to serving his food, cleaning his litter box, playing with him and telling him he’s a good boy.

For simplicity and reference this guide will be broken down into sections outlining your responsibilities, with a short quiz and essay at the end which are due no later than two days before I depart for my trip.

I – Responsibilities

Section One: Meals

Buddy’s favorite food is turkey, and turkey comprises the main part of his diet. However, it’s important that His Grace consumes a well-rounded diet, so you will be responsible for rotating meals in a way that will meet his nutritional requirements while also providing enough variety to keep him interested.

Turkey will be your lead-off and go-to meal, but it must never be served twice in a row. It’s also imperative to strike a good balance between poultry, fish and beef. See the detailed Guide to Feeding for more information.

Section Two: Litter Box Maintenance

His Grace requires a clean box, and it is your responsibility to scoop at least once every two hours. After scooping you should use the poop spatula to make sure the litter is evenly distributed throughout the box and smooth out any imperfections. When you’re finished it should look like an undisturbed beach without any dunes or ripples. This is important.

When His Grace is ready to use the litter box, you must accompany him and station yourself outside while he disappears through the flap to do his business. If you hear him grunting with effort or suspect he’s dealing with constipatory issues, he may require words of encouragement.

Afterward when he emerges from the litter box, you’re expected to clap politely and tell him he’s a good boy.

Section Three: Play Time and Entertainment

As Buddy’s temporary guardian you are expected to provide at least three (3) play sessions of at least 45 minutes daily. These should be interactive play sessions involving wand toys or balls. Directing Buddy to a solo toy is not acceptable!

Buddy’s favorite games are swatting bouncy balls and playing Mighty Hunter. The latter will require you to manipulate the wand toy to mimic prey. It is extremely important that you allow Buddy to “capture” his prey and simulate disemboweling it! Again, upon success His Grace should be politely applauded and told he’s such a handsome, strong and good little boy.

Section Four: Meal Locations

In addition to his traditional dining nook, in the warm weather Buddy sometimes takes his meals in his solar, also known as the balcony.

In that event, you are to bring him his meal and beverage on a tray and set it before him. Be sure to clear it when he’s finished. He doesn’t like tardy service.

Section Five: Sleeping Arrangements

Buddy is accustomed to curling up with his Big Buddy for warmth and comfort. Often, he sleeps on top of Big Buddy. You will be required to snuggle with His Grace and act as a substitute Big Buddy. Nothing can compare to the real thing, of course, but it’s important for Buddy’s well being to have a human to burrow into or sleep on.

Locking His Grace out of the bedroom at night is cruel and is tantamount to animal abuse. Do not be an animal abuser. Do the right thing.

Section Six: Doors and Other Physical Impediments

Closed doors are unacceptable to His Grace. Do not place him in a room with a closed door, and make sure you keep the bathroom door open when you make use of the facilities so Buddy can stop in and supervise as needed.

Section Seven: Proper Petting Protocol (PPP)

Lord Buddy prefers a soft, rhythmic petting pattern and enjoys it when humans stroke his chin, his cheeks and the top of his head. Do not pet his belly under any circumstances. If he bites you, that means you’ve erred and should promptly apologize.

Always take care not to over-stimulate him. If you see his tail swishing that means he’s agitated and you should stop!

Section Eight: Well-Being Verification

You will be required to send a daily email with a photograph of Buddy next to that day’s edition of the newspaper, with the masthead and date clearly visible. Your daily correspondence should also include a record of His Grace’s bowel movements, meals and activities.



II – Personal essay

In no less than 500 words, describe how you would take care of Buddy in my absence. How would you spoil him? If he’s frightened by a garbage truck, how would you comfort him? What do you admire most about Buddy? Describe your reaction to the honor of being trusted with his care. Provide specifics.

III – Quiz

1) You awake at 2:45 a.m. and realize not only has His Grace relegated you to only 32 percent of the bed, but he’s claimed almost the entire blanket with the exception of a small corner. Do you:

a) Go back to sleep.

b) Carefully exit the bed so as not to disturb Buddy, walk to the closet and retrieve another blanket.

c) Retire to the couch and let Buddy sleep on the bed.

2) You’ve just returned home after running errands, but you’re more than an hour late because of heavy traffic. You’re famished, and so is Buddy. What is the appropriate course of action?

a) Ignore your hunger and immediately prepare and serve Buddy’s meal before making dinner for yourself.

b) Ignore your hunger and immediately prepare and serve Buddy’s meal, standing at a respectful distance as he eats because you know he feels safer eating when someone is watching his back.

c) Ignore your hunger, prepare and serve Buddy’s meal, attend him at his litter box and play with him for 45 minutes before making dinner for yourself.

3) Oh no! A natural disaster! You and Buddy are trapped in the house without access to the kitchen. You’re left with only a bottle of water, a can of tuna and two Slim Jims. How do you ration your supplies?

a) Reserve the entire can of tuna, half the water bottle and one Slim Jim for Buddy, leaving one Slim Jim for yourself.

b) Reserve all consumable food for Buddy, knowing that His Grace requires a considerable amount of protein.

4) You’ve invited several friends over to dinner, but one of them mentions she’s allergic to cats. Do you:

a) Rescind the invitation.

b) Tell her she’ll have to deal.

c) Offer to put her in a room while Buddy socializes with the other guests.

5) You’ve accidentally stepped on Buddy’s tail. How do you rectify the situation?

a) Prostrate yourself before His Grace and beg forgiveness.

b) Apologize profusely and tell Buddy he’s such a strong and fearless cat for enduring the pain.

c) Immediately retrieve delicious treats, make an offering of them to His Grace, and beg forgiveness.

6) You need to go to work, but Buddy is lonely and meows at you to stay with him. What is the proper solution?

a) Take a sick day and stay home with Buddy.

b) Take a vacation day and stay home with Buddy.

c) Bring Buddy into the office where people will lavish attention on him and tell him what a good boy he is.

7) You’re watching a movie and Buddy is napping on your lap, but you need to heed the call of nature. How do you proceed?

a) Resolve to hold off any bathroom trip until Buddy wakes and moves.

b) Cruelly wake His Grace and use the bathroom.

c) Wake Buddy, present him with turkey treats as an apology, and proceed to the bathroom.

8) Your friend texts you to say she’s won a pair of tickets to see Eric Clapton, one of your favorite musicians, and she wants you to go with her. What do you tell her?

a) “I’m sorry, I wish I could go but I have to take care of my son’s cat.”

b) “Do they allow cats at the concert venue?”

c) “I’m sorry, you know how much I love Eric Clapton, but I’m currently taking care of my son’s cat and he is absolutely delightful. Thanks for the offer, but I’m going to stay in and hang out with Buddy.”