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The Cats of Yanaka

Feline strays find solace in park

If you have ever set foot in Yanaka Ginza (which I would highly recommend you do), then you probably have noticed the beautiful wood baskets soaking up some sun or perhaps the delectable smell finding you from the Turkish-Iranian restaurant nearby. Of all the sights to see in this cozy, old-fashioned neighborhood, one stuck out to me the most: cats, cats everywhere.

In noticing adorable cats on welcome signs and store fronts in the Yanaka area—even a dessert shop with cat paw prints on each of the sweets—I started to wonder if this was uniquely Yanaka.

On my tour of this area, I stopped in to Yanaka Cemetery Park to marvel at the beautifully decorated gravesites and the afternoon lighting in the droves of green cherry blossom trees. As I casually walked down the paths of the park, I was pleasantly surprised to find a pair of pointed ears on one of the stones, and then another passing behind it. And like the trees, these cats are present in droves.

The strays of Yanaka Cemetery Park don’t seem to be a bother to anyone, and may even be a comfort for those who have come to tidy up the gravestones of their loved ones. I saw one man scratching a black cat to its hearts content, and when I made a loop back to the same area, the same man was still there except this time petting a white cat that called his attention.

It’s discouraged to feed the cats, as numerous signs in Japanese advise to park attendees. Yet every so often you’ll see dishes of cat food intentionally placed on a few memorials.

Some of the cats will happily accept attention with exposed bellies, while others might be more inclined to find those hidden dishes of food. Of course, it’s important to be aware that these cats are indeed strays, so take caution if you decide to pet any or all of them. But with a loving pat and a warm smile, you’re sure to make a few new feline friends.

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