Locals and visitors dressed as supernatural cats took to the streets of a neighborhood in Tokyo on Sunday for a Halloween-inspired nod to one of Japanese literature’s most celebrated narrators at the 2018 Kagurazaka Bakeneko Festival.
Seen by many as a kind of precursor to the Halloween mayhem that over recent years has taken place across Tokyo around October 31, the Kagurazaka Bakeneko Festival, held in the Shinjuku neighborhood of the same name, sees participants dress as ‘bakeneko,’ goulishly transformed cats from Japanese legend, for a parade down the area’s main street of Waseda Dori.
Kagurazaka, according to the festival’s volunteer organizers, has, since the Meiji era, been known as haunt for literary types and artists, and more recently is known among feline fans as a place with a deep connection to cats.
The area’s most famous literary face and originator of the feline connection is the celebrated novelist Natsume Soseki, who penned the novel ‘I am a cat.’
In the novel (initially a series of short stories published in the early 1900s) Soseki’s witty and cynical observations of Tokyo’s middle classes, and Japanese society at large, are delivered to readers by his narrator -- an alley cat that installs itself in the home of an English professor.
More than 100 years later, it would seem that little has changed -- Kagurazaka remains firmly middle-class and were Soseki around today he would perhaps delight, or despair, at the sight of grown adults parading around town dressed as flamboyant cats and in some cases, in the company of actual cats, although these days installed in pushchairs.
Citing Soseki’s biting witticisms is probably to miss the point though, the Kagurazaka Bakeneko Festival delights in being what festival organizers call a “borderless event,” open to everyone regardless of age, gender, nationality or occupation. In fact, along with the requirement made of participants that they dress up as some form of cat, perhaps we could throw in another, that they leave any Soseki-inspired cynicism at home.
“I’m really surprised to see just how many people here love cats,” said a Japanese lady in her 40s, watching the festival for the first time.
Such sentiment would appear to reflect the popularity of a festival that, while unable to compete in participant number with events set to take place in other parts Tokyo, has become a fixture on the Japan capital’s Halloween calendar despite the inaugural festival being held as recently as 2010.
This year’s festival wrapped up, in what has become traditional fashion, with the “Anya-Dance” a feline version of the Awa Odori during which onlookers are encouraged to get involved.