“The Guest Cat” by Takashi Hiraide | A Wonderful Novel About A Furry Visitor Bringing Joy into a Couple’s Life


‘The Guest Cat’ (by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide) is heart-warming novel. The book got the bestseller in New York Times, France Times, and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award. It is also beautifully portraying love between a cat and the mid-thirty couple living in the suburb area of Tokyo.

The story began in the late 1980s, during the last years of the Showa period. The couple, one a writer and the other a proofreader lived in a small rented house. It is part of a larger estate with a beautiful garden where the old landlady and her husband lived. When they signed the house rental lease from the old woman, there was a clause appended to the agreement stating. The landlord didn’t allow children or pets. They were well-suited renters then, since they didn’t have a child, and neither of them liked cats and the notion of owning a dog had never even come up.

But one day, unexpectedly, a cat from the neighbors’ house, named Chibi, visited their kitchen. It soon left but kept coming, again and again, the next days. Although neither of them was fond of cats, they soon felt an attachment to this furry little visitor and offered food and a place for sleep. But then something happens – something that changes things and takes the couple, and the reader, on an unexpected emotional route.


To be honest, it was the cover of the book that first caught my eyes. Well, no one could resist those shiny eyes of the cat from the book cover. However, the illustration of the cat from the book cover is a bit different from the author’s description.

“Chibi was a jewel of a cat. Her pure white fur was mottled with several lampblack blotches containing just a bit of light brown. The sort of cat you might see just about anywhere in Japan, except she was especially slim and tiny.
These were her individual characteristics – slim and small, with ears that stood out, tapering off beautifully at the tips, and often twitching. She would approach silently and undetected to rub up against one’s legs.”

Sadly, Chibi’s appearance in the novel is brief, but the portrayal of her wild and free nature is so detailed and vivid that the readers can relate even if they are not cat-lovers. There are certain descriptions that are nostalgically familiar if you have adopted a cat before.

In just under 140 pages, it spans a wide spectrum of emotion and detail. The pond and the garden of the landlady’s house with an array of plants and aquatic flowers are so well described that it felt like an oasis in the centre of a dull and boring city.

However, I had a hard time visualizing the special optical phenomenon – the figure of people walking past the narrow alleyway beside the house (which the couple called “Lightning Alley” because of its frequent sharp turns that one sees in drawings of lightning bolts) turning upside down on the frosted glass screen of the kitchen window – caused by a small knothole in the wooden fence.


There are many reasons to believe that this book is autobiographical about the author written in a narrative style. I was curious about whether it is fact or fiction until I came across online about this article, about a book signing/discussion organized by the Japan Foundation at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation’s venue on Cambridge Street in Manchester. Takashi explained in that article interview that some parts of the novel- including location, living quarters for instance- are based on fact, although the novel is a mixture of reality and fiction.

Overall, this is one of those books that are a pleasure to sit and read on your holidays. Since it is short you can finish the book within a day. Perhaps you might want your cat sit on your lap while reading and at times the author’s descriptions are so relatable that you might look at your cat and smile.

Although I got a very vivid picture of the life of the couple and their interactions with the cat, the profound nature of some parts of the writing seem to lost in translation in English version since the original prose is poetic and lyrical. I lost connection to the philosophical and metaphorical parts of the plot at the end that I wasn’t really sure what the point was. Maybe the author purposely left the readers with a mystery to create an ending up to their imagination, or maybe I read it too fast and need to read it again.

Author Information

Takashi Hiraide was born in Moji (now a part of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka) in 1950. He has published numerous books of poetry as well as several books of genre-bending essays, including one on poetics and baseball. He has also written a biography of Meiji poet Irako Seihaku, and a travelogue that follows the traces of Kafka, Celan, and Benjamin in Berlin. The Tibor de Nagy Foundation published his poetry book, ‘Postcards to Donald Evans’.

Takashi is a professor of Art Science and Poetics as well as a core member of the new Institute for Art Anthropology at Tama Art University. ‘For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut’ won the 2009 Best Translated Book Award for poetry. He currently lives in the west suburbs of Tokyo with a cat and his wife, the poet Michiyo Kawano.

Eric Selland (translated into English) lives in Tokyo. He is the author of ‘The Condition of Music’, ‘Inventions’, and ‘Still Lifes’.

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