I think this might be my weirdest reading experiment yet. Because this time, I read bestsellers that have been translated from Japanese. Which I’m really excited about because I wanted to read more translated works and more works from different countries and cultures. And one of the books that fit both of those goals (plus my goal of reading more classics) happened to be a book called I Am a Cat. Which honestly sounded amazing all on its own. But it soon led down a rabbit hole of Japanese fiction about cats. Of which there is kind of a lot.
Now, I love cats. And, based on my very limited experience, I do enjoy Japanese culture. So I thought, why not get more exposure to Japanese literature by reading all the Japanese books about cats I can get my hands on? And so, this reading experiment was born.
I chose five books that all have “cat” in the title, are all translated from Japanese, and were at some point bestsellers. They’re also books I am interested in reading, because I just really want to have fun with this (and believe it or not there are quite a few more Japanese cat books to choose from). The books I chose literally span over a century (from 1905 to 2012). So there are some classics, some more contemporary books, and I think a good mix of Japanese cat literature (that’s a thing, right?) throughout the years.
As always, I blogged about these in the order in which I read them:
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
It usually takes me more than one book to start regretting my decisions when it comes to these reading experiment posts. But that’s not the case here. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the book itself – I actually really enjoyed it – but the fact that I am now realizing that it’s very likely all of the cats in these books might die. And I can’t handle that.
But apart from this book being slightly depressing, I found it really beautiful. I really enjoy books that are about simple, everyday things. In this case, a man in his thirties reevaluating his life while at the same time discovering a cat for the first time. And it was great. It was also really fun to see all the descriptions of the cat from the eyes of someone who isn’t all too familiar with cat personalities. At one point, the cat interrupts their shrimp dinner, gets a taste of shrimp and is then described as a “warrior demon” intent on stealing more. Which, if you know cats, is extremely accurate. I still have a scar on my arm from the one time my cat tried to steal my melon (yes, my last cat literally ate any human food she could get her paws on and especially loved fruit).
Overall, I really enjoyed this! It was such a lovely story, and it perfectly describes falling in love with a cat that doesn’t belong to you. Which we’ve all done, right? Just me? Ok, fine. But it is kind of a fitting metaphor to describe cats as guests in our lives. Especially the cat in this book, who walks in and out of the story as she pleases.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
This is probably the most well-known of the books on this list, at least here in the US. But I will admit, I was a little worried about it after the last one. And after the cat gets hit by a car in the first chapter, I was a little traumatized. The last cat died, this one was seriously injured, all of the Goodreads reviews said this book makes people cry. I was kind of scared, not going to lie.
But this ended up being a really beautiful story. It is mostly told from the point of view of the cat, which was fun. I really loved how the cat, Nana, sees the world. It backed up the article I once read where scientists determined that cats basically see us as giant, stupid kittens. Which is fair, let’s be honest.
I didn’t particularly love the in-between parts without the cat (basically the backstory of the cat’s human), but I did like this book overall. I think it was a lovely, albeit sad, story. I didn’t make me sob, like half of the reviews said it would, but I did tear up a little at the end. And, thankfully, it wasn’t because the cat dies. Not a personal favorite, but I can definitely see why so many people love this book. It was a solid four-star read for me.
A Cat, a Man, and Two Women by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Unlike the first two books, this one felt a lot more about the humans than about the cat. It’s basically human drama with the cat at the center. A man (who is maybe a little too into his cat) is having to deal with his ex-wife wanting custody of the cat and his new wife being a little disturbed by how close he is to the cat. Which is fair. I mean, I love my cat a lot, but when I occasionally give him bits of my food, I don’t give him more than I leave for myself OR let him eat it directly out of my mouth at the dinner table.
I also really enjoyed how the cat is portrayed in this book, because it was very realistic. My cat also scratches all the doors (except unlike the cat in the book who opens them all, mine slams them shut and traps himself). And while I did really enjoy the personalities of the cats in the first two books, I also liked that this cat was just a normal cat (fairly similar to the cat in The Guest Cat) and more of an excuse for drama that probably would have happened anyway than the center of the story.
Overall, it was a good read. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Traveling Cat Chronicles, but I’d rank it slightly above The Guest Cat. So far, it’s been really fun to read about how important cats become in the lives of the people in these stories. I’m also feeling slightly better about this experiment because so far because this cat came out totally unscathed.
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
Well, thanks to this lovely book, I can now say that half of the books so far involve humans having cancer. But I can also say that this was my favorite of this experiment. At least for now. It’s about a man who discovers he has a week to live. And then the devil shows up and informs him that he actually only has a day left. Unless he makes something disappear from the world in exchange for one more day. The catch is that the devil gets to choose what that thing is. I’m guessing from the title you can guess where this goes.
This was such a creative story. I just loved the premise and how it makes you think about the value you place on things in your life. Could you choose to make all books disappear from the world if it meant you had one more day to live? I’m not sure I could do that. It’s kind of an interesting thing to consider.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was just fun to read. It’s also pretty short, and I found it to be a relatively quick book to get through. Which was very nice considering the next and final book on my list is a nearly-five-hundred page classic. And yes, I hate myself a tiny bit for saving it until last.
I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume
This one was actually on my reading list for 2021, so I was pretty excited to get to it and cross it off my list. It is a classic Japanese novel about a cat (obviously) who wanders around turn-of-the-century Japan and points out how stupid humans are. Which just sounds great. And it was… for the first hundred or so pages. It was fun to tag along with the cat as he learned about humans and met other cats and kind of discovered his place in the world.
But after that, it was mostly about the humans he observed. And I kind of didn’t really care about any of them. This was a weird book in that I think I might have cared about them if they had been slightly more than side characters in the cat’s life. It was just kind of boring. Which I hate to say, because I wanted to like this more than I did. It has so much promise after the first part of the book.
It’s entirely possible I may not have been in the right headspace for a book that is just about everyday lives where nothing really exciting happens, but that basically describes most of the books on this list, and I felt more connected or interested in a lot of those characters. I can appreciate this for what it is, but I also think it could have been a lot shorter than it’s 480 pages and still accomplish the same thing.
Overall, I was slightly disappointed. But only because I was expecting more out of this than it actually was. I think I had built this one up in my head so much because I’ve been talking about reading it for like a year before I finally got around to it. I’d say this is probably three and a half stars for me. I liked it, I just wish it had been like 200 pages shorter.
This was really fun. I do enjoy reading stories told from the point of view of cats. I also learned that if you pick up a book with a cat character, it is very likely not everyone will make it out alive. Seriously – out of the five books I read, two of the cats featured in the book die at some point and two human main characters die of cancer. So this was not the happiest reading experiment. But I still liked it, and ended up rating all of these books three or four stars. I think If Cats Disappeared from the World was definitely an unexpected favorite of the bunch.
This is definitely one of those reading experiments that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I feel like these are books I probably would have picked up at some point, and just never read. So I’m glad I forced myself to do it, and I had a lot of fun.
What did you think of this reading experiment? Would you read any of these books? Do you have any ideas for experiments you’d like to see me do in the future?