Okayama, Japan took a heavy hit last summer from natural disasters. Now a young cat named Sajuro is doing his best to help rebuild the tourism industry and has attracted lots of attention on social media.
Sajuro is serving as feline “lord” of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture. He’s very friendly towards the tourists and is called a living version of a ‘beckoning cat.’ Beckoning cats in Japanese culture are usually made of ceramic or plastic and thought to bring good luck and wealth.
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is also known as the “castle in the sky.” Sajuro, who is believed to be between three and four years old, moved into the castle in the wake of the heavy rains that hit last July. He was found wandering in the Sannomaru area by Ryoichi Motohara, the castle janitor, on July 21.
Ryoichi believed the cat had been abandoned and began feeding him. The Takahashi City Tourist Association gave him the name Sanjuro as a tribute to a samurai warrior of the Bitchu Matsuyama clam who served during the last years of the Edo period.
The Takahashi City Tourist Association is upbeat, with an official of the association saying, “We want to liven up the whole city with Sanjuro.”
It turned out Sanjuro had an owner. Due to his exposure on the news and on social media, 40-year-old Megumi Nanba said she’d been searching for Sanjuro since he ran away on July 14. She lives about six kilometers from the castle.
At first, Megumi wanted to bring Sanjuro home because he was attached to her children. The family got together and decided what would be best for the cat would be for him to remain at the castle. She stated in an interview with Mail Tribune
“I was really relieved when I found out he was alive. If he likes living in the castle, it is good for him [to stay there].”
In November last year, an official of the tourist association took him home to prepare for a media presentation, and Sanjuro ran away again.
Sanjuro has become known as a traveler. In November he ran away again when an official of the tourist association took him home to prepare for a media presentation. Officials were concerned when leaflets and other methods to find Sanjuro proved unsuccessful. He remained missing for 19 days.
The association appointed Sanjuro to “castle lord cat” in December. His position required him to walk around the castle twice a day on a leash. The rest of the time Sanjuro remains inside the castle’s administrative office building in the Honmaru area. It was too stressful to allow him to roam freely and risk losing him again.
The torrential rains took a toll on the tourist season. According to the tourist association, July 18 statistics show the castle only had 20 percent of the number of visitors than they had the previous year. Reports show that in February 2019 the castle had passed 4,000 visitors. That’s a 40 percent increase over 2018.
Tourist association manager Hideo Aihara stated
“With Sanjuro at the core, new movements including developments of items and event plans have been occurring. We want to expand this positive trend while cooperating with various entities.”
The association also produces a line of Sanjuro souvenirs such as keychains and postcards. On March 16 a special event was held on the “Day of Sanjuro” when tourists swarmed from across the nation to meet Sanjuro and take photos of the ‘castle lord.’
Sanjuro knows he has an important role in the success of castle tourism. He allows being petted and even sits on a lap or two. He has a near perfect life (for a cat). I would imagine he keeps any rodents from charging the administrative office building.
NOTE: All photos courtesy of Instagram.