Rhod returned home late from crunching today, vanished into the kitchen
and began rummaging through cupboards for an old plate and some milk.
He then disappeared for a few minutes, running down to the shrine close
to our apartment to feed the waif cats, all desperately thin and need
of a square meal.
The shrine makes up the ancient West Gate that once stood at the outer wall of Heian-kyo, but in the many years since has been swallowed up and crushed by small warehouses that press in on all sides. The creepy, dilapidated torii gates that twist their way up to the secluded shrine lay in shadow at all times of day, the vast ginko trees smothering out the sky. Each morning a little old lady brushes down the paths and sprinkles fresh water across the precinct. As she wobbles around the tiny shrine she shushes and gently kicks away the scores of cats that hang about scavenging food.
Cats in Japan are treated as supernatural beings, closely linked to the spirit world. Shrines are often overflowing with strays, shaggy, dirty and mangy. Dogs are booted out, but cats get the run of the place, breeding at will and screeching their way through the night (cat sex is not a pleasant thing...the horrible cry of the female cat is mainly due to her mate having a sharp bone in his penis). In Japan, vampires disguise themselves as cats with two tails. Cats with black marks are said to have the soul of a dead ancestor inside.
Rhod has taken it upon himself to be the saviour of the shrine cats. I bought some cat food and hopefully we can keep them from starving to death. Japan's track record as an animal lover is not a good one. Although there seems to be a trend amongst young people for keeping dogs instead of having children, dressing them up in t-shirts and snazzy berets, choosing small, yappy, deformed looking beasts, and giving them more love than their fellow humans, mostly animals are treated quite badly.
Like ghosts you see them skulking around the shrine at night, often frightening me with their late night howls. To the people who abandoned them, I almost wish the cats were sorcerers so that they could race back to their once-owners and take out their revenge.