Book Review: The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa

The Travelling Cat Chronicles
By Hiro Arikawa
Transworld Publishers Ltd (2017)

Review by Harry Martin

Hiro Arikawa is another new author for me. This Tokyoite has slipped through my reading
lists over the years and it has taken this charming international bestseller, translated into
English by Philip Gabriel, to finally get her on my bookshelf.

“The Travelling Cat Chronicles” (“Tabineko Report” in the original Japanese) is a heart-
warming story focusing on that most pure of relationships, human and animal. This
companionship is one I’m sure most, if not all, readers can relate to and Arikawa chooses
the context of a lonely but endearing man’s relationship with his pet cat to draw inspiration
for her book.

Nana, a once street-wise stray cat, provides us with the sassy and spirited narrative
throughout, starting with his first encounter with his owner Satoru and moving from initial
resistance to domestication right through to his eventual adaptation to suburban pet life.
Satoru himself offers the reader a figure of empathy and sympathy with whom I’m sure most
will find a sense of parallel and compassion at some level, in response to his selfless and
solitary existence, defined only by his job and having only a cat to provide companionship.

The book takes on an episodic form, following Satoru across Japan and through a series of
reunions with old friends in a quest to find a new home for his beloved pet, a change in his
circumstances having forced him to give up Nana. The reason for this sudden change is not
initially revealed to the reader or to Nana; as the story moves forward, however, the layers of
mystery are gradually peeled back until the final climax of the novel, which is likely to
moisten the eyes of even the hardiest of readers.

Writing a story narrated from the perspective of a cat might seem a novel and eccentric
choice for an author aiming to attract an adult audience. However this plays on a long-
standing tradition in Japanese culture, where cats feature heavily in art, film and literature.
Take a look at any Japanese art gallery and you’ll soon find yourself spotting cats in varying
forms, from Edo to Meiji to the more modern. They are a ubiquitous and characterful addition
to many of Japan’s cultural outputs, with Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, Soseki Natsume and Haruki
Murakami all drawing artistic inspiration from cats to bring life and animation to their art.

However the more universal themes of friendship, loneliness, loyalty and loss are what really
reign supreme here – Arikawa manages to incorporate some painfully familiar and relatable
scenarios into an otherwise fun and delightfully enjoyable story. This is certainly a great
introduction to a clearly talented writer (and translator) and has inspired me to go out and
search for more of her works.