Our first morning in Tokyo: we wake up bagged, fragged and jet-lagged having spent the night in a fifteen square metre apartment with nothing but a futon the thickness of a panty liner between us and a cold wood floor. But it’s delightful. Because outside there are some *cute* cats sleeping on a Coke machine, bathed in the golden winter sun. That’s all that matters. What is it about Tokyo and cats? They seem to be everywhere, glowering from windows and bunched up like lost fur hats in the middle of the pavement of Ueno Park. Haruki Murakami used to run a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. Chris Marker always seemed to have a cat or two in his films. He described this city and its cats so beautifully in his (1982) Sans Soleil
He wrote me that in the suburbs of Tokyo, there’s a temple consecrated to cats. “I wish I could convey you the simplicity , the lack of affectation, of this couple who’d come to place an inscribed wooden slat in the cat cemetery so that their cat Tora would be protected. No she wasn’t dead, only run away. But on the day of her death, no one would know how to pray for her, how to intercede with death so that he would call her by her right name. So they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken.“
In Marker’s honour, we stop in at Jetée, which the owner Kawai san has decorated with cat figurines. We chat with her for a while over drinks and she tells us about Marker’s most recent film; ‘Chats perchés,’ which, sadly, we haven’t yet seen. But time is out of joint. It is the coldest winter in years and I am telling the story out of sequence. It doesn’t really matter. I’ll rely on photography. Again I think of Marker:
“I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather, I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory.”
The Japanese have many words for cute. ‘Kawaii des ne?’ might cut it for cats but it isn’t the right flavour of cute to describe a Maid Café. So we head down to Akiba to investigate. Six stories above the street we join a queue, waiting for a tables in the At Home Café. The place is a seething madhouse of pink, with bevies of maids scurrying around, giggling and serving cupcakes and omelettes that have cartoon smiles drizzled onto them with ketchup. Every twenty minutes or so a floor show starts, where customers play games with the maids and have their pictures taken flanked by maids holding plates of cupcakes. This is the epitome of moe (mo-eh) cuteness, quite distinct from the kawaii. When she finishes pouring my tea, our maid shows me how to jiggle my arms and make a heart shape with my thumbs and forefingers, while I coo:
“o-o-o-o-h . . . . mo-e !” appreciatively at my cup.
“It makes it taste better,” she says.
How could I argue?