End of September, 2021.
It is a beautiful sunny day in Kumamoto, not far from the tourist spot of Takachiho, in the deep countryside in Southern Japan.
The last stop before the sunset is a shrine renowned for its dramatic set of stairs in the woods, called Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine.
Despite the stunning views, it’s a lonely sight.
At this time in September, Japan has still not lifted domestic COVID-19 emergency measures, and few people are traveling compared to an average year during the nation’s Silver Week.
Yet, the star of the day is about to surprise us.
A young female cat, almost completely white except a spot of black and brown around her right eye, with a tiger patterned tail, suddenly appears. She is sporting a colorful blue and pink outfit.
She sits majestically on a rock as we walk by. And as I watch curiously, a couple who are with her take countless pictures of the cat. “Iicha, look here!”
I can’t resist, and I start talking with the humans, who speak with pride about their feline companion. They are her owners, from Toyama Prefecture.
We learn that the cat’s name is Iicha, and the couple have been traveling around Japan taking pictures of her wherever they go for several years, ever since she was a little kitten. The first picture posted on the Instagram account of “Iicha the Traveling Cat” (@ayumeru24) dates back to October 2017. And now the traveling companions have a modest yet solid following: almost 8,000 followers on Instagram.
The couple and the cat have visited all 47 prefectures in Japan, and most of them at least 3 times. Their travels continued, albeit cautiously through the pandemic, with appropriate masks and other mitigation measures taken. Their Instagram pictures were perhaps a welcome relief to many of us who were at home, aching for the days when we could travel again.
Armed with a cat-carry bag for Iicha and their iPhone, the couple and their snow-colored furry friend go through the motions of capturing the cat’s most flattering angle in various poses at different landmarks as they visit famous and beautiful sites around Japan.
The day we meet them, Iicha sits completely still, no leash needed. And she is a wonder to behold as her owner snaps away. The cat sits imperturbable, and only meows in frustration when she is poked too many times for attention.
“She seems annoyed” says her owner, smiling warmly, yet Iicha is clearly used to the proceedings.
Ready for any Occasion
When the couple started their Instagram account, they explained, they would post pictures of Iicha with just a cute little red collar. These days, the outfits have gone up a few levels.
Now there are Halloween-themed patterns, Christmas outfits, and even some that cater to the interests of anime fans all over the world.
For example, for a September theme picture, the costume is that of Nezuko, the popular anime character from Demon Slayer (Kimetsu no Yaiba). Iicha is set in a field with a background of spider lilies, a flower which blooms in that season and is also a decorative feature in the closing song of the anime series.
These days, the state of emergency has ended in Japan and the wider public can travel again inside the country. There is hope that the Go To Travel campaign will kick off some much needed domestic tourism, and who knows ー you might join in. If you do, look for Iicha the Traveling Cat, because she just might be waiting at your next destination.
Kamishikimi Kumanoimasu Shrine.
Author: Arielle Busetto