Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Viva Cats!

I left Tokyo exactly two weeks ago yesterday and as is usual for me I took a lil' blogging break whilst I was getting settled in my new space. Inawashiro feels like a different world compared to Tokyo, the pace of life is incredibly different as is the way I'm spending my days. Nick and I are volunteering at Japan Cat Network where we're managing a team of volunteers as well as their social media. On top of that I'm trying to work on fundraising ideas and community outreach but those have taken a back seat as I work on more pressing things; getting to know the cats, learning how to use Facebook and cleaning and tidying a mountain of things. This is the house we're currently sharing with five people, 23 cats and two dogs!

The house has three cat rooms filled with kitties with all sorts of different personalities, foibles, likes and dislikes and bonding with some of them is definitely a challenging process. Most of the cats here were rescued from the exclusion zone in Fukushima so we don't know most of their histories. It's clear that some had homes and families and we suspect that some did not. Nick and I have picked some of the most challenging kitties and are spending a little time each day trying to make friends with them.
Each cat room has an outdoor space and some of the kitties love to sit and watch the world go by. These kitties are Peanut and Claude who are BFFs!

Sleeping arrangements at the shelter are interesting, for the first week Nick and I slept in separate bunk beds alongside another volunteer in a curtained off area in the living room. After someone left to travel around Japan we swiftly stole her space and have managed to squeeze ourselves into this area in the loft just above the living area. It's a cute and cosy space with absolutely no privacy at all! 

If I stretch out in bed my feet touch the feet of another volunteer and both him and the woman who sleeps in the curtained off area next to his need to walk past our "room" to get anywhere. It's cute though and I'm beyond appreciative of the free accommodation despite the um, challenges, it throws up but it turns out that 10 days is my breaking point for living like this. Day 10 was when I started plotting an overnight escape and today, day 12, was when Nick booked a hotel in Sendai because he's worried I may have some kinda breakdown without a break from our new living arrangements. I'm eagerly awaiting the end of my shift tomorrow and my day off on Friday because as well as a quiet, peaceful hotel room where you don't have to pick up other peoples socks, listen to their guitar playing or move their washing up to get to the sink Sendai also has a T's Tan Tan where I will be eating my bodyweight in food that I didn't have to cook for myself.

During our first week here I totally lost my cooking mojo. Despite having an oven for the first time in almost a year I wasn't really feeling it in the kitchen and all I ate for about a week were Clif bars, 7/eleven onigiri, bread (from a mix), tofu scramble and bananas. I think the new living sitch' combined with the increased workload just made me reach for anything quick, easy and delicious. After a week I reached out to my Twitter pals, got them to toss some suggestions my way, and headed to the second nearest supermarket which is much better than the closer one and, really, what's an extra five minutes added onto a 40 minute journey? Our walk to the supermarket consists of fields, quiet streets and the odd house here and there. In winter when the mountains are covered in snow the area is a lot busier, apparently it's the same in summer when Lake Inawashiro draws an influx of visitors that rival the crowds of winter ski and snowboard freaks but currently we're in-between seasons so it's almost eerily peaceful.

We found a lot of fantastic things at the supermarket; fun veggies, accidentally vegan pancake mix, sugar syrup, miso, tots (you can't even get tots in England!), macaroni and more. Within a few hours I'd whipped up some garlicky tomato sauce for spaghetti which was deliciously simple. Next Nick made pancakes from the mix which were uh-mazing, better than most of the pancakes I've made from scratch but that isn't saying a lot as Nick is the pancake queen in our house.

Nick also whipped up an amazing mac and cheese sauce starting with a simple oil based roux and adding soy milk, miso, nooch, garlic powder, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. It was perfect and creamy and we'll definitely be making it again. 

Since then my kitchen mojo is well and truly back with a vengeance and I'm eating similarly to the way I used to eat at home - loads of carbs, not enough veggies, more than the occasional dessert, lots of yumminess. I made Okonomiyaki, whipped up a dip based on the crock cheeze from the Uncheese Cookbook, veganised a box mix gingerbread cake using applesauce, roasted potatoes with thyme and salt, made a coleslaw with a simple mayo, soy milk and lemon juice dressing, and whipped up the Marbled Banana Bread from The PPK for a fellow volunteers birthday. Of course I sometimes fall back on my favourite packet ramen from Natural House fancied up with some pak choi and oyster mushrooms after a long day of tidying, cleaning, cat petting and dog walking but sometimes that's as much effort as you can put into a meal and that's a-ok.

There are two dogs living at the shelter, Addy and Chacha. They've both been here for five years now and whilst they love the company of volunteers they are very much in need of a forever home. The constant changes and lack of stability that come with somewhere being solely run by volunteers can't be good for them. They need to be adopted together because they are best friends in the truest sense of the words, where Addy goes, Chacha goes and they really do make the most adorable pair. 


Addy and I celebrating a volunteers birthday! She didn't get any cake.

And then of course there are the cats, if I'm completely honest I've been too busy using my limited time (the time not spend hauling stuff out from underneath tarps, putting on load after load of laundry, scrubbing, cleaning and tidying) playing, stroking and petting the cats to take many pictures. I don't keep my phone on me at all times and when you're heading into a cat room with a basket full of food bowls in one hand and a hoover in the other the last thing on my mind is my camera! I have taken a few shots and hopefully, when the majority of the tidying and organising is done, there'll be more time for both cat pictures and fancying up the cat rooms to make their lives here even more fun.


Chibi and Tart



Just like Addy and Chacha all of the cats have been here for at least five years, there's one group of five, a group of six and then a group of 12 very frightened cats. They're all looking for homes but I keep hearing differing things about whether we'll adopt to places outside of Japan. Socialising some of the cats is hard, there are cats in Room B, where the 12 frightened cats live, that still run from me as soon as I enter the room and there are cats in there that'll take a treat from my hand. Penny (pictured above) will let me stroke her if I approach slowly whilst she's sitting on the bed but anywhere else? Hell no! She'll give me a good claws-out whack on the hand if I try to stoke her whilst she's wandering past me as I read or if I try to give her a little tickle behind the ear before feeding time. I'm learning that cats are even more complex than I thought and that I'm at once desperate to make them all my friends and scared of getting too attached. I'm looking forward to what the next six weeks holds and I'll be getting back to my regular posting schedule asap! 


  1. Eeeeeee, pooches and kitties! They do look adorable, fingers crossed for adoption options. Enjoy your hotel time :)

  2. Great looking pancakes! I can imagine it being quite stressful sharing a living space like that, so enjoy your trip to a hotel. Hopefully the work and the cats are rewarding enough to balance out the lack of privacy somewhat.

  3. Oh how I love cats! They're so complex and incredibly rewarding to be around. I'm sure the scared ones will come around. My kitty hid from us for over a month after we adopted her but now she's my little shadow!

  4. "at once desperate to make them all my friends and scared of getting too attached" is my relationship with every cat I meet on the outside. The struggle!

  5. This is such an amazing thing you are doing! Though I can imagine the challenges of living with other people in such cramped quarters! But all of the kitties you are helping will be so grateful. :)

    Sounds like you are having some pretty good food now that you are back into the kitchen swing. I am really looking forward to hearing about how you make your okonomiyaki.

  6. Ha, I would have plotted that escape after the second night already! And I better not show this post to my daughter. She's been so cat obsessed lately and although I keep telling her that we can't have an animal in our limited space, this would totally convince her that such a thing is possible.

  7. Sounds like quite an adventure, even with such tight quarters for your sleeping area! Loved the dog & kitty photos, and all the food looks delicious! :)

  8. Wow, what an adventure! And well done for lasting 12 days, I don't think I could have. I have a friend who does cat rescue/foster and she has around 20 in her house at all times. I think it's an amazing thing to be able to help animals in this way and I know from her that it's not easy. I hope it continues to be a good experience for you and Nick x

  9. What a lovely and useful way to spend your time in Inawashiro. Very cool. I'm not surprised you're spending more time with the cats than taking pics! I wish we had tots over here too!


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