InBridge over Troubled Waters, academic Sanjay Kumar tells us about Pandies, an activist theatre group founded by him that educates, bridging gaps between the divides of University educated and the less fortunate who people slums or terror zones. Click here to read.
In Lessons Old and New from a Stray Japanese Cat, Keith Lyons talks with the author of The Cat with Three Passports, CJ Fentiman who likes the anonymity loaned by resettling in new places & enjoys creating a space for herself away from her birthplace. Click hereto read.
With Christmas at our heels and the world waking up slowly from a pandemic that will hopefully become an endemic as the Omicron seems to fizzle towards a common cold, we look forward to a new year and a new world. Perhaps, our society will evolve to become one where differences are accepted as variety just as we are fine with the fact that December can be warm or cold depending on the geography of the place. People will be welcomed even if of different colours and creed. The commonality of belonging to the same species will override all other disparities…
While we have had exciting developments this year and civilians have moved beyond the Earth — we do have a piece on that by Candice Louisa Daquin — within the planet, we have become more aware of the inequalities that exist. We are aware of the politics that seems to surround even a simple thing like a vaccine for the pandemic. However, these two years dominated by the virus has shown us one thing — if we do not rise above petty greed and create a world where healthcare and basic needs are met for all, we will suffer. As my nearly eighty-year-old aunt confided, even if one person has Covid in a remote corner of the world, it will spread to all of us. The virus sees no boundaries. This pandemic was just a start. There might be more outbreaks like this in the future as the rapacious continue to exploit deeper into the wilderness to accommodate our growing greed, not need. With the onset of warmer climates — global warming and climate change are realities — what can we look forward to as our future?
Que sera sera — what will be, will be. Though a bit of that attitude is necessary, we have become more aware and connected. We can at least visualise changes towards a more egalitarian and just world, to prevent what happened in the past. It would be wonderful if we could act based on the truth learnt from history rather than to overlook or rewrite it from the perspective of the victor and use that experience to benefit our homes, planet and all living things, great and small. In tune with our quest towards a better world, we have an interview with an academic, Sanjay Kumar, founder of a group called Pandies, who use theatre to connect the world of haves with have-nots. What impressed me most was that they have actually put refugees and migrant workers on stage with their stories. They even managed to land in Kashmir and work with children from war-torn zones. They have travelled and travelled into different dimensions in quest of a better world. Travelling is what our other interviewee did too — with a cat who holds three passports. CJ Fentiman, author of The Cat with Three Passports, has been interviewed by Keith Lyons, who has reviewed her book too.
This time we have the eminent Aruna Chakravarti review Devika Khanna Narula’sBeyond the Veils, a retelling of the author’s family history. Perhaps, history has been the common thread in our reviews this time. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Anirudh Kala’sTwo and a Half Rivers, a fiction that focusses on the Sikh issues in 1980s India from a Dalit perspective. It brought to my mind a family saga I had been recently re-reading, Alex Haley’s Roots, which showcased the whole American Revolution from the perspective of slaves brought over from Africa. Did the new laws change the fates of the slaves or Dalits? To an extent, it did but the rest as fact and fiction showcase were in the hands that belonged to the newly freed people. To enable people to step out of the cycle of poverty, the right attitudes towards growth and the ability to accept the subsequent changes is a felt need. That is perhaps where organisations like Pandies step in. Another non-fiction which highlights history around the same period and place as Kala’s novel is BP Pande’sIn the Service of Free India –Memoirs of a Civil Servant. Reviewed by Bhaskar Parichha, the book explores the darker nuances of human history filled with violence and intolerance.
That violence is intricately linked to power politics has been showcased often. But, what would be really amazing to see would be how we could get out of the cycle as a society. With gun violence being an accepted norm in one of the largest democracies of the world, perhaps we need to listen to the voice of wisdom found in the fiction by Steve Davidson who meets perhaps a ghost in Hong Kong. Musing over the ghost’s words, the past catches up in Sunil Sharma’s story, ‘Walls’. Sharma has also given us a slice from his life in Canada with its colours, vibrancy and photographs of the fall. As he emigrated to Canada, we read of immigrants in Marzia Rahman’s touching narrative. She has opted to go with the less privileged just as Lakshmi Kannan has opted to go with the privileged in her story.
Sharma observes, while we find the opulence of nature thrive in places people inhabit in Canada, it is not so in Asia. I wonder why? Why are Asian cities crowded and polluted? There was a time when Los Angeles and London suffered smogs. Has that shifted now as factories relocated to Asia, generating wealth in currency but taking away from nature’s opulence of fresh, clean air as more flock into crowded cities looking for sustenance?
Humour is introduced into the short story section with Sohana Manzoor’s hilarious rendering of her driving lessons in America, lessons given to foreigners by migrants. Rhys Hughes makes for more humour with a really hilarious rendition of men in tea cosies missing their…I think ‘TrouserHermit’ will tell you the rest. He has perhaps more sober poetry which though imaginative does not make you laugh as much as his prose. Michael Burch has shared some beautiful poetry perpetuating the calmer nuances of a deeply felt love and affection. George Freek, Anasuya Bhar, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Dibyajyoti Sarma have all given us wonderful poetry along with many others. One could write an essay on each poem – but as we are short shrift for time, we move on to travel sagas from hiking in Australia and hobnobbing with kangaroos to renovated palaces in Bengal.
While mostly we hear of sad stories related to marriages, we have a sunny one in which Alpana finds much in a marriage that runs well with wisdom learnt from Kung Fu Panda. Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us a philosophical piece with his characteristic touch of irony laced with humour on statues. If you are wondering what he could have to say, have a read.
In Nature’s Musings, Penny Wilkes has offered us prose and wonderful photographs of the last vestiges of autumn. As the season hovers between summer and winter, geographical boundaries too can get blurred at times. A nostalgic recap given by Ratnottama Sengupta along the borders of Bengal, which though still crossed by elephants freely in jungles (wild elephants do not need visas, I guess), gained an independence from the harshness of cultural hegemony on December 16th, 1971. Candice Louisa Daquin has also looked at grey zones that lie between sanity and insanity in her column. An essay which links East and West has been given to us by Rakibul Hasan about a poet who mingles the two in his poetry. A Bengali song by Tagore, Purano shei diner kotha, that is almost a perfect trans creation of Robert Burn’s Scottish Auld Lang Syne in the spirit of welcoming the New Year, has been transcreated to English. The similarity in the content of the two greats’ lyrics showcase the commonalities of love, friendship and warmth that unite all cultures into one humanity.
Our first translation from Uzbekistan – a story by Sherzod Artikov, translated from Uzbeki by Nigora Mukhammad — gives a glimpse of a culture that might be new to many of us. Akbar Barakzai’s shorter poems, translated by Fazal Baloch from Balochi and Ratnottama Sengupta’s transcreation of a Tagore song, Rangiye Die Jao, have added richness to our oeuvre along with one from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Professor Fakrul Alam, who is well-known for his translation of poetry by Jibonanda Das, has started sharing his work on the Bengali poet with us. Pause by and take a look.
There is much more than what I can put down here as we have a bumper end of the year issue this December. There is a bit of something for all times, tastes and seasons.
I would like to thank my wonderful team for helping put together this issue. Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious need double thanks for their lovely artwork that is showcased in our magazine. We are privileged to have committed readers, some of who have started contributing to our content too. A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers for being with us through our journey.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful transition into the New Year! May we open up to a fantastic brave, new world!
Going to Japan to teach English seemed like a good way to earn money, but animal lover CJ Fentiman came away from living and working in Japan with more than she expected as chronicled by her in The Cat with Three Passports: What a Japanese cat taught me about an old culture and new beginnings.
A book that could be considered a travel memoir, but it stretches beyond the normal scope of a travelogue, due partly to the introverted author’s inner reflection and personal transformation, but mainly due to the courageous actions of the writer in turning a soft spot for a cat into an international animal relocation mission. Sorry to spoil the ending of the book, but in most cases, foreigners going to a strange and different country take a “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” approach. So when they leave, it is with fond memories, tales of culture shock and culinary misadventures, and bulging suitcases.
Not so with Fentiman and her partner, Ryan, who faced new challenges while taking a homeless cat with them to Australia, some 8,000 kilometres away. So why would you rescue from the streets a bedraggled silver tabby and then contemplate taking it with you across the oceans? If you are a cat lover, you already know the answer.
Let’s back up. One of the reasons The Cat with Three Passports is such a good read is that from the outset, the reader is invited in to experience Japan as seen through the eyes of someone right off the plane after a long flight. Throughout the book, there are vivid descriptions of landscapes, encounters and events, including weird festivals (naked men) which give an insight into an unfamiliar culture.
If the anticipation isn’t enough, the author exposes her vulnerability by sharing her anxieties and self-doubts, along with her past patterns of escaping situations and places, and how she has been distant from her estranged family.
Cats feature literally and figuratively throughout the book, and the author has blended in feline-related sayings and some of Japan’s cat wisdom. In a way, the cats make CJ and Ryan more “at home” in Japan among the cherry blossoms, bullet trains and vending machines. Essentially, the cats they encounter are the facilitators of the adaption and softening, helping them discover their purpose and giving them fulfilment.
Things take a turn for the surreal when they transfer to a job at a school set in a British theme park high in the mountains. Their time in Japan is not complete without a visit to the famed Cat Island, where cats outnumber humans perhaps thirty five to one. In the same way that cats love warmth and sun, humans are also attracted to cats because they bestow blessings on homo sapiens. One study found that cat owners have better psychological health than people without pets. Cat feeders claim to feel happier, more confident, less nervous and to sleep, focus and face problems better in their lives.
The Cat with Three Passports will appeal to anyone who has or wants to visit Japan, any animal lover or ailurophile along with readers who enjoy travel memoirs. It is a heart-warming and touching tale of outer and inner discovery.
If you’ve already encountered some travel classics on Japan, such as Lost Japan by Alex Kerr, Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson, or Pico Iyer’s recent A Beginners Guide to Japan, consider reading The Cat with Three Passports even if you aren’t a pet lover or Japan fan.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZor blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
CJ Fentiman is a writer, an entrepreneur, and an animal lover, originally from the UK, but currently living in Australia with her partner and two cats. She runs the Australian website, Pet Friendly Accommodation, and published a handy guidebook Travelling with Pets on Australia’s East Coast now in its fifth edition. Regarded as an expert on pet travel, CJ’s memoir The Cat with Three Passports: What a Japanese cat taught me about a old culture and new beginnings tells the story of her adventures as an English teacher in Japan, a fateful encounter with a homeless cat, and her own personal journey of growth and discovery, Fentiman and her partner, Ryan, lived in Japan from 2004 to 2007, but as we’ll learn, some of the biggest challenges came from CJ’s past and their future after working in Japan.
What attracted you to live and work in a place which is very foreign?
When a teaching opportunity came up in Japan, complete with two cats in the work apartment, I jumped at the chance. At first, Japan offered a way to travel and make money, I never thought I’d fall in love with the culture as much as I did, and that I’d learn so much from living there.
Do you think living in a strange and foreign place, and living as a couple, focused more on you, how you are in the world, and past patterns?
It can be quite a culture shock with regard to the work ethic and way of doing things in Japan, but the longer I was there I developed a real appreciation for the attention to detail to things, the politeness, respect, and courtesy. It also made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I have as an English speaker to work and study abroad without too many visa restrictions. I love the anonymity that Japan provided me. There I was just another ‘foreigner’.
Living as a couple in Japan was attractive to many employers, as I guess they saw you as more stable than a single person, so it actually helped when applying for jobs.
One of the themes is about your running away from things in the past. What do you think was behind this flight/escape urge?
That’s a good question. Three generations of women in my family have all emigrated internationally for one reason or another, so I guess I was following in their footsteps. The main temptation in living away from home offers you the opportunity to reinvent yourself and start afresh.
How did Japan, travel and cats (and Ryan) help you deal with this instinctive response?
Being able to just be the gaijin (foreigner) was really liberating for me, I was able to shed a lifetime of labels and reboot myself in a very positive way. Having a cat also meant a commitment, so I couldn’t just flit off when I chose. It gave me a reason to stay in one place and put down some roots and by doing so, connected with local people on a much deeper level, and was warmly welcomed as part of their community.
What do you think makes your book a little different from the standard foreigner goes to Japan travel memoir?
I like to think that it has a message of hope that no matter how bad things get, there is a way out. Changing your location and your surroundings can have a huge impact on how you see the world, and for me travel has been the greatest teacher.
How did your experiences in Japan and then moving Gershwin develop into articles and then your book and website?
It happened very naturally. Seeing people take their pets on holiday in Japan, was the inspiration for my first book, which is about ‘Travelling with Pets’. I remember seeing a couple at Lake Inawashiro in Fukushima Prefecture with a cat and dog, thinking that’s exactly what I want to do! The inspiration for my second book, The Cat with Three Passports, was the experience of relocating internationally with a pet, and all the amazing people I met along the way.
How was the process of writing The Cat with Three Passports, given that it was your first book of that kind?
It was a challenge because I had so many positive experiences while living in Japan that I felt would be good material, I almost had too much, so I had to spend a lot of time editing. My first book pretty much wrote itself, but as a travel memoir is much more personal, I had to dig a lot deeper, which wasn’t always easy!
Who do you think your book will appeal to?
It will definitely appeal to people interested in going to Japan, cat lovers, and even Japanese people themselves. Recently, I received a lovely message from a Japanese lady, who said how much she enjoyed the book because she was living in New Zealand during the lockdown and couldn’t return home to Japan, she said my book helped her with homesickness. It was a very special moment for me.
How are sales of your book going, and in what countries is it selling?
It seems to be hugely popular in the USA at the moment, and it even won an award there at the International Book Awards for American Book Fest in the narrative non-fiction category for animals.
What have been the highlights and lasting experiences of having your book appear in print and in bookshops?
I would say the biggest highlight has been the people that I have met, to hear that people have felt connected to the story is amazing. It’s nice to know that there are others out there that have had similar experiences in life.
The comments I get from different people around the world about how much people related to my story are beyond rewarding and make it all worthwhile.
You’ve lived away from the UK for quite some time — where are you now, and what are your plans for future, such as going back to the UK?
Never say never – but the older I get, the more I realise how lucky I am to have lived in many countries. I love the UK and will always consider it home, it’s just there are so many other places I’d love to visit and live in. We currently live in Australia, and although I do have a romantic idea of living back in the UK, I’m unsure when that will happen at the moment.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZor blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
A riot of colours starts the day
with happiness, vibrancy and hope,
dispelling the winter of discontent
with whispers of new lores…
Devi (The Goddess) is a 1960 Satyajit Ray film, based on a story by a writer called Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, that showcases nineteenth century India, where the silence of a young girl who is deified, wreaks havoc in her home, village and life. In an interview, Satyajit Ray contended that the film was to make people rethink ‘messiahdom’. The exact words he used to state this was that the film was against ‘religious dogmatism’ as the film and story literally dealt with the deification of a young bride. Tagore had similarly questioned blind deification in a number of his poems and plays. These (as Ray spelt out in his interview) did not address religion per se but malpractices, among them, the tendency to worship an idol to a point where flaws are justified, accepted and emulated. Satyajit Ray and Tagore were both Brahmos — which can be seen as a reform movement. These two were not criticising religion but talking of rising above gawky hero worship to think logically and arrive at logical conclusions. When we talk of characters from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, other mythologies or substitute the adulated with stars, writers, politicians and businessmen who run huge concerns, we tend to idolise them. But these were and are all characters with flaws, whether fictitious or real. We can well learn from their mistakes, rather than deify and worship them to justify bad behaviour by quoting instances from lives of past legends or prominent persons in the current world.
Akbar Barakzai, a poet exiled from Balochistan, talks in a similar vein in his interview. You can see it in his poetry too — some of which can be found translated by Fazal Baloch in our pages. Barakzai talks of transcending barriers we draw for ourselves in the real world, of writing with honesty and sincerity. He has shared vignettes of his life as he changed countries to continue his work. Baloch has also brought to us another excellent poet in translation, Munir Momin. A major poem by Nazrul (the ‘bidrohi kobi’), ‘Bidrohi or Rebel’ has wound its way to our pages translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. We are honoured and grateful that Prof Alam chose to share this excellent translation with us. We have more translations: Jibonananda’s ‘Motorcar’(1934) by Rakibul Hasan Khan, a Korean translation by Ihlwha Choi, another short story from Nepal and Tagore’s powerful poem, ‘Morichika or Mirage’, which is a wake-up call for the inert affluent who hold themselves aloof from common masses. We have also interviewed a major prose translator of Tagore, Professor Somdatta Mandal. With much to share on Santiniketan, Nabanita Deb Sen and many interesting anecdotes, Mandal talks of her extensive work with her translations spanning many more writers from the past.
We have a colourful ensemble this time almost as vibrant as the autumnal colours that have invaded nature in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Michael R Burch has given us beautiful poems on autumn, including the autumn of life. We have a poem in a similar vein by George Freek whose work continues influenced by Liu Yong (1719-1805), an influential minister and calligrapher in the Qing Dynasty. Ryan Quinn Flanagan touches on Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his poetry. Rhys Hughes has given us humour in both his poetry and his column. Our other humorist, Devraj Singh Kalsi has given us darker, more caustic black humour in his narrative. We have lovely photographs from Penny Wilkes with her verses in Nature’s Musings. It is amazing the way she photographs birds in flight. Stories from Malaysia, Bangladesh, India and America add to the richness of our oeuvre. Sunil Sharma has given us an avant-garde telling of Odysseus’s voyage in the modern world, transcending the borders of time and ethnicity.
A well-known senior journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta, has also travelled through time to give us a recall of her experience at the 35th Cairo Film Festival one November, nine years ago. Her narrative about the time that the Shariat law was adopted by Egypt reminds me of the way things moved in Afghanistan few months ago and what is even more stunning is the way in which organisations dubbed extremists earlier are allowed to run countries now. Is it really not yet time to get rid of messiahs and look for one world?
Do pause by and find many more authors who dot our November edition. As usual, naming each one will keep you away from our delectable reads for longer. We thank all our readers for their continued patronage, and I would like to thank my fabulous team who are now even providing visuals to brighten our pages. A huge thanks to Sohana Manzoor and Sybil Pretious, who write as well as they paint. Thanks to all our wonderful contributors for making Borderless a reality.
Chapter 7: Better To Enclose A Cat Than to Scold It
Clothes shops kept irregular hours in Takayama. Three different days, at three different hours, we tried to visit a local vintage store, and each time we found it closed.
It was refreshing to see that a country that had appeared, at first, such a stickler for rules, actually had a whole community that seemed to do the opposite of what was expected.
‘It is ikigai,’ explained James, the bald Kiwi ALT whom we had called Jēmusu (the Japanese word for James) as a joke.
‘What is ikigai?’ I asked. ‘A fish?’
‘No,’ he said with a grin. ‘Ikigai means finding your purpose, your meaning in life, and combining it with your profession, your work. It is the balance of doing what you love while making a living and letting neither path control your life.’
I didn’t really understand ikigai until one spring day I actually found the vintage clothing shop open and went inside to explore as I’d longed to do for over a month. The owner, G-Kun, a snowboarder in his early thirties who wore his long black hair tied back in a ponytail, was busy checking orders on his computer.
Ryan was looking at skateboard tee shirts while I browsed some different-coloured beanies made from hemp that I loved and would probably never wear.
‘I’m so glad I finally got to come in,’ I said to G-Kun.
‘Why has your store been closed so often? Were you ill?’
‘Not at all,’ he replied with a friendly smile. ‘I have just been concentrating on something else.’
‘My music career.’
I stared at him.
‘I travelled in Europe some years back and became friendly with some European DJs,’ he continued. ‘I ended up co-producing some dance tracks with them.’
He had my rapt attention. To my very British mind, this was an entirely new concept. I had been told as a child to forget working with horses and get a job in a bank, because in England I was supposed to be a responsible adult with a steady good-paying job doing something I loathed rather than something I loved.
But in Takayama . . . Was what G-Kun telling me real? Could an avocation and a job actually be combined? And if they could, did I have my own ikigai, something that would bring deep satisfaction to my life?
Once I understood ikigai, I saw it all around me. In Takayama, many people had turned their passions into businesses from which they earned an actual living wage. Of course, that’s not to say all Japanese follow ikigai but it seemed widely practiced here. And then there was Keisuke, who worked in a brewery and wanted to start his own saké company someday.
Twenty-something Keisuke was not particularly well educated or rich, but he seemed more contented than anyone I’d met in a long time. In fact, he was so happy and so passionate about his job that I never saw him in anything other than his cream-coloured brewery overalls.
One night in Keisuke ’s apartment, he proudly poured me his employer’s clear rice wine into a tiny white and blue ceramic cup, beaming with something more than pride.
Ryan took the first sip and beamed back at him. ‘This is good stuff! You’ve got the saké magic, Keisuke-san. Like Harry Potter.’
‘So, so, so,’ Keisuke said and paused for a moment to think. ‘You know what, I am not Harry Potter. But I am . . . the Saké Potter.’
And from that day on, that’s exactly what we called him.
A few nights later, while out for dinner with some friends, we came across a stray cat that was to begin my search for ikigai.
‘Kawaisō, it’s such a shame,’ Sayuri said. ‘There’s so many noranekos [stray cats] in Takayama. It’s sad.’
I leaned down to pat the bedraggled kitten and he tapped me with his paw, as if begging for more. ‘Poor baby,’ I said. ‘He must hang around the restaurant in the hope of getting food scraps,’ I said.
‘The staff probably feed him,’ Ryan said as he joined us, the kitten instantly turning to him for attention.
‘What should I do?’ I asked.
‘Why do you have do anything?’ Mike said, joining us.
Takako, our friendly waitress was standing at the door and confirmed our suspicions about the kitten. ‘Hai.Nora-neko desu.’ (Yes. It is a stray.)
‘Come on, you can’t save them all,’ said Dominic as he marched off down the pavement.
Reluctantly, I followed him, along with the others. But, as we wandered tipsily back to our apartment, the kitten tried to follow us. He looked unwell. Snot was dribbling down his scrawny face. Everyone picked up their pace.
I forced myself not to turn around as we walked back home. If I had, I’d have scooped that kitten up and to hell with the consequences. Actually, that would have saved me time and trouble, because when we got back to the apartment, all I could think about was the abandoned kitten with the big affectionate personality struggling to survive outside all by himself.
Our friends stood in the kitchen noisily making plans about how to get to the next party, oblivious to the kitten’s plight. I was unable to even smile, let alone participate. ‘I’m sorry. I’m not going to make it to any more parties or bars tonight. I’ve got a headache, so I’m going to stay here,’ I said.
After the noisy crowd, including Ryan, had left, I tried going to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I was unable to purge the image of the friendly little feline from my mind. Finally, fuelled by Chu-Hai and cheese sticks, I got dressed, crept outside, grabbed my bike, and cycled along the fluorescent-lit pathway armed with dry cat biscuits and a cat carrier.
Sure enough, with no other place to go, the kitten was still at Murasaki begging for food and attention. He didn’t struggle one bit as I lifted him into the cat carrier and set it in the front basket of my bicycle. Apparently, taking his chances with the kindly stranger and her weird contraption was better than spending another dangerous night on the street.
I knew that Ryan would not be impressed with my philanthropy, and less than thrilled about this new addition to our household, but I also knew that this little boy didn’t stand much chance of survival if we left him on the streets. I also felt I could relate to the kitten’s predicament of abandonment. After all, I’d faced similar emotions myself as a child. Displeased boyfriend versus dead kitten? It was no contest.
Still, when I carried the cat carrier into the apartment, the enormity of what I had done hit me. Just as a matter of practicality, we couldn’t take on another kitten. We already had three cats we would have to re-home before we returned to England in December. Plus, this little guy was clearly sick. His eyes looked rheumy and painful. His nose was dripping. He might infect Iko, Niko, and Gershwin. I’d have to keep them apart. Into the laundry room he went with food, water, a litter box, and bedding. Fortunately, he had no interest in hiding under the washing machine.
Ryan got back the next morning looking a bit worse for wear, possibly hungover, and definitely sleep-deprived. Perfect. This was the right time to tell him what I’d done, while he was in a weakened state.
‘Don’t get angry,’ I said. ‘But there’s someone you might want to meet in the laundry room.’
Ryan looked at me with bloodshot green eyes. ‘Oh no! You didn’t. Did you?’
‘I couldn’t leave him there. Anyway, you’ve been gone nearly all night,’ I said, trying to shift the focus onto his fictional misdeeds.
‘Have you introduced him to the other cats yet?’
‘No, I’m waiting until I’ve taken him to the vet.’
‘Good idea,’ Ryan said wearily. He gave me a kiss and crawled into bed, leaving me to keep the cats separate as best I could, which was difficult, because Gershwin was eager to meet our houseguest.
It was at this moment that I realised I had found the start of my own ikigai. I wanted to incorporate my love of animals into my life’s work, but in order to do that, in the future I would need to find a healthier way to do so. So, my other cats didn’t get hurt.
I went to the vets that morning, surprising Dr. Iguchi when a bedraggled tabby kitten strode confidently out of the carrier, rather than Gershwin. Surprise turned immediately to concern as the kitten sat on the exam table, smiled at both of us, then sneezed violently, sending lots of yellow discharge all over the vet’s pristine white smock.
The prognosis was not good. ‘He could have feline flu,’ Dr. Iguchi announced. ‘Very contagious. Very bad. It could be much worse. He might have FIV virus.’
My stomach clenched. The dreaded and deadly cat AIDS.
‘There is a vaccine for your other cats,’ he continued. ‘For now, you must quarantine this kitten until we get his test results back.’
‘I think Gershwin has had the vaccination already,’ I said hopefully, ‘but I’m not sure about Iko and Niko.’
‘So, so, so. Gershkun had the vaccinations before, not the sisters. But you must keep all the cats away from the kitten for now.’
There was no alternative. If I didn’t want a house full of sick cats, and I didn’t, this was the only way. I just had to pray that the others hadn’t already been infected. I told myself they were strong, genki [healthy] animals and I was blithely certain they could fight off any infection, not realising in my ignorance how contagious and potentially deadly feline flu really was.
I drove home and put the kitten back in the laundry room, praying that he didn’t have anything that could kill him, or the other cats.
It wasn’t long before Gershwin wanted to go in and carouse with the kitten. He knew something was wrong straight away. He was always good at reading situations. So, he sat by the door and started meowing to be let in. When I came to see what was bothering him, he stared at me with every ounce of his feline superiority and demanded to see his potential Best Friend Forever. He uttered a particularly piercing nyan [meow] in protest at my having exiled the kitten to the laundry room.
‘You mustn’t go near him for a while,’ I said.
Gershwin rubbed his soft furry body against my even furrier legs and looked me straight in the eyes as if to say ‘Think again.’
When I wouldn’t give in to his demands, he started playing angrily, jumping onto the bookshelf, hurling himself off the top, somersaulting in mid-air, and landing unceremoniously a few centimetres from my feet.
‘Right, that’s it,’ I said as I picked him up, carried him to the bedroom, and shut the door.
It was always the same with Gershwin. Despite being a Ninja Attack Kitten, he had a delicate soul. Whenever he was reprimanded, he would become so hurt by the scolding that he’d disappear for hours (and once, for days) at the shock of being chastised. Then, it could be days before he would actually forgive us. He could out-sit our most ardent lures to be returned to his good graces. If I tried to tempt him with his favourite treats, he would sniff them with disdain, turn his back, and walk off scornfully. I was always the first to give in and let him have his way.
This time, Gershwin didn’t know best. He was banned from the laundry room. Iko and Niko took one look at the closed laundry room door, sniffed the scent of an unfamiliar feline, and avoided that part of the apartment just as they tried to avoid Gershwin when he came over all Ninja Kitten.
That night, I lay awake in bed worrying about what the test results would be. What if, in bringing this stray kitten home, I had inadvertently infected the other cats with the FIV virus? I felt deeply guilty at potentially jeopardising their wellbeing, even their lives. In trying to do the right thing by the sick kitten, I may have done an incredibly wrong thing by Iko, Niko, and Gershwin. If anything happened to them, it would be entirely my fault.
For the next week, while we waited for the test results, the poor kitten, whom I named Takashi after a jovial Bagus bartender, suffered from inflamed and discharging eyes and a badly running nose. I had never seen a cat in this condition before. His tatty coat needed some love and his sore eyes needed constant care. The vet had told me to wash them twice daily with saltwater, which helped them tremendously. He had also given me a medicinal orange powder that I was supposed to mix into his food. Cats being cats, he could smell the concoction a mile off and he was having none of it. I ended up mixing the powder with butter and rubbing it around his face, so he was forced to lick it off.
I agonised all that week. Ryan was equally concerned for the poor little guy. ‘When are you going back to the vets?’ he asked me daily. ‘You’re sure the other cats won’t get it?’ I dared not answer.
Finally, the dreaded, long anticipated morning arrived. A week after I had confined Takashi to the laundry room, I plopped him back into a cat carrier and drove off to see the vet and get the test results.
By now, I had become a regular and familiar face at the animal hospital. I was the only pet-owning gaijin in the vicinity, as far as I was aware, which meant I was a bit of a novelty in the waiting room. People stared at me and some smiled, a few of the braver ones even made conversation, which helped distract me from the potentially dreadful news I might be getting today.
Finally, Takashi’s name was called and, cat carrier in hand, I was ushered into an exam room. I waited nervously as the vet found the kitten’s file.
‘No Katto Eizu,’ he said.
Oh, thank God. Takashi didn’t have the FIV virus!
Before I could celebrate, he continued. ‘But Takashi-kun is very sick,’ Dr. Iguchi said in a somber tone. ‘He has cat flu.’
The tone of his voice was my first clue that feline flu was a far more serious disease than I had believed.
‘Very contagious,’ he continued. ‘Other cats should be immunised against the virus immediately, and Takashi-kun should be isolated from them for another week, maybe more. Keep giving him the medicine and bathing his eyes.’
My enormous relief that Takashi didn’t have a death sentence, and my fears for Iko, Niko, and Gershwin, warred within me all the way home.
About the book: A girl struggling to fit in. A homeless kitten. An unexpected job offer in an unfamiliar country that changes everything. CJ had a long history of escaping places and people she wasn’t fond of. But for the sake of a silver tabby, she decided to stay in Japan for a while. This decision helped her open her heart and mind, revisit her way of thinking, and reconnect with her estranged family. Let this heartwarming memoir take you to the land of cats and cherry trees as you read about CJ’s adventures — from the craziness of Furukawa’s naked men festival, the experience of forest bathing and the significance of finding a life purpose or ikigai, to the temples of Takayama, and wonders of Cat Island — you’ll see what a homeless kitten found outside a temple in Japan taught her about an old culture and new beginnings.
About the author: CJ Fentiman is a British writer whose work has appeared in a wide range of the publications, from the Japan Times and Caravan World to Horses & People and Pets Bar. An expert on pet travel, she has featured in media in the UK and Australia including Readers Digest, SBS radio, Books on Asia, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, the Courier Mail, and one of the biggest blog platforms on cats, Katzenworld. Her memoir, The Cat with Three Passports, received the award in animal narrative in the 2021 International Book Awards.