Nameneko – Pellorian cats

Nameneko - Pellorian cats

Any Japanophile and kawaii-lover should know about nameneko cats. Take a kitten, dress it in a baggy suit and photograph it acting like a human… nameneko is one of the finest art forms known to man. Oh, and what does nameneko/namennayo mean? “Don’t lick me…”

Pelorian or Nameneko cats became a huge japanese buzzword in the eighties – nameneko being the hobby of dressing kittens up in ridiculously cute costumes and photographing them cleverly-arranged kitten-sized sets and backdrops.

‘Pelorian’ means that something regular occurs in something that is usually irregular (so if you were a punk and you went to work in a pinstripe suit, that would be an example of pelorian style).

Pelorian cats were made famous by the tireless work of an artist called Tsudo, and he called them Nameneko, meaning ‘Unlickable’ (the slang version being Namen Nayo – ‘Don’t Lick Me!’), so they are more regularly referred to as Nameneko cats or Namen Nayo cats.

The story behind Nameneko cats

In 1980, a young japanese guy called Satoro Tsuda found a wild kitten at his local dry cleaners and took it home to look after it, even though – at the time – cats were the one animal he didn’t much like because they kept attacking his birds. He not-so-romantically named it Matakichi after the dry cleaners. It was one of a gang of four, and at first it didn’t look like they would survive.

But, overcoming his dislike of cats, he fed them milk with a dropper, kept their room warm, wiped their bottoms, cleaned their ears several times a day and took them to work in a basket because he felt they should not be unattended at this vulnerable time in their lives. The kittens began to run after Tsudo as if he was their mother and sleep in his bed at night, and he grew to adore them.

One day Matakichi started playing with some doll costumes his girlfriend had left lying in the house, and in a fated moment Tsuda realised they were the same size! He put the costumes on the kittens as a joke and took photos of the kittens running around in their outfits… and thus the concept of Namen Nayo cats was born.

How are Nameneko cats photographed?

Photographing Nameneko cats takes up to eight people to do. Two or three are needed to dress the kittens, one person photographs them, one sorts out the set and window-dressing, and one lucky person has to guide the kittens into facing the camera and pulling their best kittenish pose.

The set and props are prepared a couple of hours before the shoot.

The cats can only be posed for about 10 minutes before they become bored and wander off or, even worse, start running around the set and tearing it up with their sharp claws.

The nameneko cats are photographed not more than once every three days so it is not too stressful for them, and the nameneko team have said they’d consider it good going if they got 1 or 2 decent photos out of a session.

Nameneko cats look like they are standing but they’re actually sitting down, which is much more comfortable for a kitten. But if you photograph it from the front, the kitten will look like it is standing. One way to prove this is that the kitten’s tail is flush with the floor. Cats who are standing have arching tails.

Is Nameneko a form of animal cruelty?

Ever since the Nameneko photographs have become popular, animal right activists and other concerned people have been up in arms.

Accusations thrown at the Nameneko team commonly include:

  • Those kittens must be stuffed, surely?
  • The kittens have been tied to a stick to make them stand…?
  • The kittens have had wire wrapped round them…?
  • The kittens’ costumes have been plastered to their bodies…?
  • The cats have been made unconscious before being photographed. Grr!

Well, this is definitely not the case. All of these kittens have been treated very well indeed!

The nameneko kittens have lovely bright expressions that would never come from being in pain or doped up. Media types and journalists often sit in on the shoots and have never reported bad behaviour from the humans.

The Nameneko costumes are not uncomfortable for the kittens to wear – they are one-pieces outfits with a little fastener in the back, and very baggy so the cats can run around, even if the photographer doesn’t want them to!

Photo shoots of nameneko cats are usually carried out about 10 times, from 50 days to 80 days after the kittens’ birth. Then the kittens are retired, and are cared for by Tsuda and his team. Matakichi – the original kitten – became a happy mum of four.

Although the average lifespan of a cat is about 15 years or so, the kitten that posed in shots as Matakichi’s ‘girlfriend’ (they thought Matakichi was a boy when she was a kitten!!) got to be over 20 years old. So, unlike human celebrities, the kittens got to be famous but they still had normal, happy lives!

With thanks to the following nameneko sites

This little kitten is sitting in his costume. When photographed from the front, he looks like he is standing up…