On this day: Yanaka “Cat Town”, Tokyo

See more from my On This Day series here, where I celebrate travel memories on their trip anniversaries.

On November 15, 2018, I was visiting Yanaka “Cat Town” in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan loves cats. From cat cafés to actual cat shrines, you will find symbols of our feline friends everywhere in the country. This is reflective of the Japanese cultural reverence for cats, which are thought to confer good luck.

One particularly well known Japanese legend tells the story of a lord who was seeking shelter beneath a tree during a storm and came across a cat that beckoned him with a wave of its paw. Intrigued by the cat’s gesture, the lord walked toward the cat, just as a strike of lightning hit the exact spot he had been standing but a moment earlier. Henceforth, the depiction of a cat with beckoning paw became a symbol of good fortune.

While we were in Tokyo, we made a visit to Yanaka, a quiet neighbourhood near Ueno Park in Taito Ward. As one of the only parts of Tokyo spared from Allied forces fire bombings during World War II, Yanaka is quite interesting in having retained its old world architecture and charm.

Beyond this, it is known for its sizeable population of stray cats, hence its nickname “Cat Town”. It’s unknown exactly why so many cats have made a home for themselves in Yanaka, but one assumption is that the area is attractive to them for its high density of trees and temples. In any case, the cats have become so beloved that the local district incorporated cats onto their district flag and the Yanaka Ginza shopping street has become something of a cat theme park.

Surprisingly and disappointingly, we spent a couple hours wandering the neighbourhood and only spotted maybe one cat. We even took a walk in search through the nearby Yanaka Cemetery, which we were told was the most common feline hangout, but we had no such luck. Where were they hiding? We will never know.