The original article published in Japanese ( https://current.ndl.go.jp/e2441 )
Current Awareness-E No.424
11 November, 2021
Celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of the Appointment of Mukunyan as the Cat Chief
Five years have passed since Mukunyan was appointed as the cat chief of Hatoju Muku Memorial Museum and Library. Today, his activities as the cat chief are well known not only within the village, but also to those outside Nagano Prefecture. To celebrate the five-year milestone, we hosted an exhibition “Cat Chief Mukunyan” at the museum and library in August 2021.
Located in Takagi Village in the southern part of Nagano Prefecture, the museum and library opened on August 9, 1992 to honor Hatoju Muku, an author of children’s literature from the village, and to promote reading including Muku’s works. Although Hatoju Muku wrote many pieces, he is well known for stories on animals such as “Daizo Jiisan to Gan” (Old Daizo and a Wild Goose) that appears in elementary school textbooks. From his young age, Muku spent time walking in the mountains with his father and listening to the stories of people in the mountains. Muku himself raised many animals, including dogs and cats.
It was in the morning of January 22, 2016 when a cat wandered into our facility with much connection to Hatoju Muku. It was a very cold morning, with puddles of water freezing everywhere. As one of our staff arrived at work, the cat clung to the feet with a desperate look and purr. Even a staff who had worked at the museum and library for years had never encountered such a situation. We were hesitant to let the cat into a public facility. We decided to observe for a while, but the lost cat was clinging and purring to people walking outside, not just to the staff. The sky was gradually turning cloudy and light snow began to fall. We also found out that the lost cat had an injured front leg. The then-director of the museum and library (and the current owner of the cat) decided to take the lost cat into custody.
The male tiger cat was still very young with an estimated age of about one. Because he was friendly and not afraid of people, we assumed that he was a pet at least temporarily. We looked for the owner but was not successful even after publicity. Eventually, the lost cat naturally came to be called “Mukunyan” (“nyan” in Japanese language refers to a cat’s cry “meow” or “mew”). This name was given because Hatoju Muku also had a cat with the same tiger pattern and also because the cat looked alike to an illustration of a cat “Mukunyan” that the staff had drawn as the character of the library (it was named from entries from children at an event in 2013). The story of a cat that wandered into the facility gradually attracted interest that by the time we felt the warmth of the spring sun, elementary school students and adult visitors were proposing Mukunyan to become the chief of the museum and library.
On April 1, 2016, the birthday of Hatoju Muku, a tiger cat that wandered into the facility on January 22 was appointed as the “cat chief Mukunyan.” Mukunyan’s tasks are to greet the visitors, model for calendars and other prizes to be given to participants in stamp rallies held on the village reading day or during village reading seasons, participate in the Library Festival (a summer event for children), and to publicize the museum and library on Facebook. Many people came to know the facility through the cat chief, and as a result, the number of visitors to the museum and library appears to have increased.
The exhibition “Cat Chief Mukunyan” was held in August this year as an event to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his appointment. It was held under restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic, but the exhibition was very well received. Visitors enjoyed the gallery of the museum and library decorated with 150 photos of Mukunyan that the staff had taken from the time he first wandered into the facility to date as well as albums made for prior events. Visitors were also given the opportunity to write a message card for Mukunyan. There were happy words from children to adults, saying “It was nice to see you” and “Stay well.” Mukunyan now works two days a week. In the past five years, he has acquired regular fans and is often surrounded by visitors on working days. Mukunyan’s day begins with a morning patrol outside the facility and he greets visitors in his favorite place outside or inside the museum and library depending on seasons and temperature (not the library space where bookshelves are placed right now). Mukunyan takes a rest during quiet times. He also often receives interviews. During the interviews, he could be wary at first, but soon shows his usual easy-going personality. I’ve always been impressed by Mukunyan, thinking that it’s rare to find a cat who does his job so perfectly.
Many coincidences came together on Mukunyan – that he wandered into the museum and library on the birthday of Hatoju Muku, that Hatoju Muku also had a tiger cat, and that he resembled the library’s character. With his friendly personality, Mukunyan has been well received by many people. Mukunyan allows small children and energetic visitors to pat him on the back. Sometimes he gently warns them or distances himself from them. Such flexible gestures are something we should learn from. Although Mukunyan is sometimes unfriendly to the staff, I believe he is showing his true self to colleagues working together. April 2021 marks Mukunyan’s sixth term in office. As he plans to continue working two days a week, I’m certain Mukunyan will carry on to show his vigor to visitors as the cat chief. We hope to keep you updated about the latest Mukunyan on Facebook.
Written by Shiozawa Mayumi
Hatoju Muku Memorial Museum and Library
Translated by Okada Aya
*Notes are not being translated and remain in Japanese language.