Naramachi, a section of Japan’s first capital city of Nara, devotes the month of June to celebrating cats with the Nyaramachi Neko Art Festival. The district, located near Kintetsu Nara Station, was already well known for its traditional buildings in the style of the Edo period (1603 -1867) when photographer Mitsuaki Iwago published a book in 2000 featuring portraits of stray cats congregating in Naramachi’s alleys and shrines. Local residents have adopted, or found homes for, many of the strays in Naramachi, and paid for their spaying or neutering. Shops in the district sell clothing, bags, and jewelry decorated with images of cats.
All of these elements resulted in Naramachi gaining the nickname Nyaramachi, “nya” being one of many Japanese words for the sounds a cat makes. Since 2005, the Nyaramachi Neko Art festival has revitalized the area. More than forty local establishments indicate their participation in the festival with an orange banner and cutouts of enlarged cat photos. Galleries stage exhibitions of artworks and photographs of moggies, and restaurants serve special cat-shaped curry rice dishes and sweets. A pottery studio and an art school offer visitors the chance to make their own kitty-themed accessories or ceramic figures, while a beauty salon applies makeup to customers who would like to resemble a performer in the musical Cats (reservations needed). Artists stock capsule toy machines with handmade cat badges and necklaces.
Ailurophiles unable to visit Naramachi during June can still enjoy the company of felines there at any other time of year. Café Chaporo is presided over by President Kuro, a black cat, who has a good working relationship with Vice President Mugi, a brown rabbit. Customers of cat café Neko An can feed kitty snacks and ground catnip to the Japanese bobtails, American shorthairs, and other breeds employed there.
The pamphlets from the tourist office are entirely in Japanese, but even visitors who don’t understand the language can enjoy communicating with the cats.
I've lived happily in Japan since 1994, first in Osaka and now in Hyogo. I love to travel, write, and sing.