On October 14th the Bakeneko Festival once again took over Kagurazaka. Since 2010, the cat-themed festival is held every year in mid-October (always two weeks before Halloween).
Bakeneko has a multitude of translations, including goblin cat and ghost cat, but it essentially means “supernatural cat”. There are many types of supernatural cats in Japanese folklore, including the Lucky Cat with the uplifted paw, and anime is filled with bakeneko and other creatures. Nyanko-sensei from the manga and anime “Natsume Yuujinchou” might be the quintessential supernatural cat.
We’ve previously explored Kagurazaka for its significance as a geisha and shopping district. However, the reason Kagurazaka is the location of the festival is that it is approximately the home of the author of the book “I Am A Cat”. Regardless, Japan is a country that is known for its love of cats. And much like the rest of Japan, Kagurazaka likes any excuse to celebrate well…anything.
This festival is unique in that it is a “borderless” inclusive event. That is, anyone (whether they are Japanese or not, or even if they don’t currently live in Japan) can join in the Bakeneko Parade, as long as they register beforehand and pay a 500 yen fee. The fee mainly covers security for the event, since streets are closed off and personnel is deployed for crowd control.
The parade meandered down the main shopping street of Kagurazaka, referred to as Waseda-dori or Kagurazaka-dori depending on where you’re looking. After awhile it u-turned back the way it came and the rest of the festival proceeded from there.
Musical performers can register before the day of, so a portion of the procession was punctuated by loud and effusive instrumentation. The band members had name tags indicating their status and they also were some of the most elaborately dressed.
There were only a few restrictions regarding who could join the parade, mostly that participants are dressed as a cat in some way. This ranged from head to toe paraphernalia and a full face of makeup to something as simple as a pair of cat ears or a Nyanko-sensei hat with attached cat paw mitts.
Some people didn’t dress up but simply brought an actual cat. Yes, actual cats. Who behaved themselves and stayed put. Perhaps an astounding nature of Japanese pets is that they are exemplarily well-behaved.
There was even a dog, who clearly was brought specifically for the event since it was adorned with a cat visage. Although the validity of a dog at a cat-centric event is questionable.
After the initial parade procession, there was a pause for a dance performance by the group CAT-A-TAC. Led by an older man with long dyed blonde hair. A man who would certainly be the bishounen character in an anime who never stops dancing, even when it’s wholly inappropriate.
Immediately after the performance concluded, they led the crowd in dance instruction for the next part of the festival, Anya Odori. This is a wordplay on a traditional festival dance called Awa Odori. Nya (often stylized as nyaa~) is the Japanese onomatopoeia for “meow”.
After the teaching session, the parade started once again, this time anyone could join. Not just those who’d previously paid to enter. The procession would occasionally stop to do different parts of the cat dance.
At one point, the crowd knelt to the ground and caressed each other, much like cats who groom each other. This was called Matatabi Time, which had a banner, and was announced by the fair-haired leader. The only thing missing was Marvin Gaye playing softly in the background. And maybe some candles.
Maybe we’ll see you at next year’s event. You can keep track of event details at the official site.
Check out the gallery below for more photos!