Fort Fornication: Father’s Day in Okinawa

“Never stop screaming, playing and laughing; it’s part of our childhood which will always be with us.” ~Romina Noriega


 “It’s finally your turn!” read a small sticky note on the outside of what Jody insists on calling the “back” door to our condo (the “front” being our unbeatable view of the East China Sea). It was simply signed, “~The Katz”.

I stop and attempt to process this odd turn of events. “The cats can’t write!” Things that make you go hmmmmmm….

I’m not going to lie: I hesitated in opening the door. Finally my turn for what? But when I finally did, I heard Jody blurt, “Welcome to Fort Day!” Still confused, I walk slowly inside, placing my belongings down gently as I go. My moves are calculated and calm, I guess much like a cat. I can quite wrap my mind around the goings-on just yet. And when I moved into our place, I was confronted with, well, a whole lotta sheets, blankets and bling hanging from all along the ceiling in our living room!

Again Jody exclaims, “Welcome to Fort Day!” She jumps up to greet me with a great, big, fantastic smile! “Ah…uhm…thanks, I think?!” I respond somewhat hesitantly.

I'm not sure the same rules apply to forts for...catz.

I’m not sure the same rules apply to forts for…catz.

You see, our cats get forts built for them on a ROUTINE basis. Cool forts. Cave-like hideouts for Cleo using the pillows, sheets and bed spread in our bedroom. A Tomcat Tavern for Naka, a basic lean-to shelter made using the raised arms of our chair-and-a-half, decorative pillows, and throw blankets. Jody swears to me that she can tell when the cats want one make (I have my doubts). But the cats do apparently enjoy them.

And by “enjoy” I mean “sleep.”

Cleo's Highest Form of Entertainment

Cleo’s Highest Form of Entertainment

Our cats are just a wee-tad spoiled by Jody. Don’t’ get me wrong – I love my cats. But I acknowledge that they are cats. Not people, and certainly not our surrogate children. They are okay alone for the whole day, or even overnight (remember, they are CATS). They don’t need to be entertained for hours on end (they are INDOOR/OUTDOOR cats).

Jody did get me a Harley.  Of sorts....

Jody did get me a Harley. Of sorts….

But they get more packages in the mail than I do. God’s honest truth! Toys, foods, and at least a half-dozen devices to provide fresh water 24/7. Naka prefers drinking pooled water in my bathtub; Cleo still likes to drink from our sink faucets.  Check out Cat Condo for more on how the cats are spoiled, AND on their “other” castle-like fortification.

The Cat Castle

The Cat Castle

One of the things I teasingly and only half-seriously complain about is how no one ever builds a fort for me. Don’t you think that a grown man would enjoy a fort every now and then? Hell yes he would! I have told Jody about how I would build forts for my kids when they were growing up. When the weekend came, maybe once a month or so while the kids were both in single digit ages, we would build a huge fort in the living room, one that would usually include the TV. Sometimes the forts would have multiple rooms (of course with flexible walls), or have raised, vaulted ceilings. Other times they would consist of darkened tunnels or dimly lit caverns. No matter the construction, they were always a hit, just like they were for me when I was a boy growing up.

Pillow and Blanket Fort with my kids circa 1999.

Pillow and Blanket Fort with my kids circa 1999.

I can’t tell you the last time I built a fort. Probably way back in 1991 or 2000 here in Okinawa when I was stationed overseas with the Navy for the first time. And although I have had cats almost full-time since 1997, I never have built one for my feline friends.

Enjoying a fort with my kids.  I didn't build this one....

Enjoying a fort with my kids. I didn’t build this one….

So, come this Father’s Day, Jody decides to make good on my protest that the cats get to have all the fun. And in some small way, maybe, attempt to return to me a bit of my childhood and those special times spent with my children. Especially since my kids are not just grown and gone, but are on literally the other side of the globe where I don’t get to see them very often, and since my relationship with my kiddos at times remains strained since the demise of their parents’ marriage any years ago. How did she make good on righting my grievance?

Jody always wanted to be an architect.  Seriously.  Ask her!

Jody always wanted to be an architect. Seriously. Ask her!

Jody threw me a “Happy Fort Day!”

Adult-Sized, Living-Room Fort

Adult-Sized, Living-Room Fort

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, happy father's dayOkinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, happy fort dayInside the fort was a mini-celebration befitting such a day and occasion. A low, small picnic table spread with gifts and wine, and lit by soft candlelight. Sitting on the floor enveloped in sheets and blankets, I opened a few gifts. Oh, and got a new Harley! Afterwards, while eating candy sampling about half a bottle of wine, we walked down the seawall to get fresh Napoli’s pizza to, you guessed it, bring back and devour in our fort. Oh, and to finish that bottle of wine. And start another….

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, celebration

What’s the main difference between “Fort Day” as an adult and as a child? Let me put it this way: “Fort Fornication” is how the citadel became to be known.

This would be Naka, our boy, who is missing the "jewels" necessary to fornicate in the forts built for him....

This would be Naka, our boy, who is missing the “jewels” necessary to fornicate in the forts built for him….

Jody enjoys the cats, and enjoys spoiling them. And to be fair, I adore how they are pampered by her. But of course Jody continues to spoil me, even though I often pout that I play second fiddle to the cats…which don’t even have thumbs…to play the fiddle. “Fort Day” will be a holiday of sorts that will be certainly celebrated more often.

Okinawa Jun 2015, Father's Day, Fort Master J

“Dear Cat-Sitter”


Cat sitter (black text) and cat owner (blue text) correspondence (both raw and unedited), along with a few musings of the cats (green text) left behind during our recent 9 day vacation to Cambodia….

Day 1

Hello, Kevin san, how are you? I could enter into your house, so I was relieved! ^^; Kurio chan & Mayonaka san are fine. Kurio chan is ok but Naka san is so cautious. But he ate his wet food for me, hide now but he will be better day by day. Kurio chan looks sad but plays fine! So don’t worry! Takeyo


Takeyo-San, thank you so much! We are in our hotel in Cambodia. Naka will warm to you; Cleo is friendly but aloof. I’m glad she played! Thanks for the pics and update. Cheers, Kevin


Dear Cat-Sitter, Who the hell is this “Kurio” of which you speak?? Sad? Sad?!? I’ll tell you about sad: the doors to this prison never open and the windows stay closed. I take only the mildest of pleasure in playing “fine,” which serves to mask my own feeble attempts at gaining access to your jugular…and the keys to my freedom. The Little Black One appears so strong as he hides, in stark contrast to my lack of will power when confronted with those damned new toys. I vow to join the kitten in his clear acts of civil disobedience during your next visit. Cleo

Day 2

Dear Kevin san, Cleo chan and Naka san are very fine. Naka san also starts to play. I’m so happy (^_^o) Have a nice trip! Takeyo


Great! Thanks so much!


Dear Cat-Sitter, Finally, you got my name right. And as my captor, I must object to you continuing to taunt me with the damaging psychological torture of the little red dot that’s impossible to catch. At least the Little Black One has lowered himself to our level now, giving up his campaign of civil disobedience, so I’m no longer alone. I’m glad someone is “so happy”…. Cleo


Kevin san, Hi, how are you? We are doing well! Cleo & Naka san are getting used to the situation, and the amount to eat dry food increased. They are very fine! Have a nice day! Takeyo. PS I give to a plant every day, don’t worry about that!


Dear Cat-Sitter, I object, once again, to the forced rations of tasteless dry cereal, and surely we are to starve with only two rationed meals a day. “The Situation?” No, sorry, “The Situation” is some jack-ass from New Jersey on reality TV. What is happening here is just plain sad. Hey, here’s an idea: let me outside and I’ll take care of the plants for you! Cleo



Day 3

Hello, Kevin san, They are very fine this morning too! They ate all dry food for me last night, and all wet food this morning too. They are interested in a new toy that I have and excited very much. I wonder whether I can park in the parking #501 while the sitting. Is the # 501 yours? The street is very is crowded very much during the G,W holiday. Thank you. Have a nice day!


Takeyo, Of course park in 501!! I’m sorry we didn’t talk about parking. Please leave a little more food out for the cats. We always leave a bowl of dry food put in the kitchen. Naka is still growing and very hungry! And thank you for bringing new tots to share with the cats! Thanks, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, With only two choices of food we starve. This is the only reason we eat for you And the Little Black One is…just plain gluttonous. I continue to regret the mildest of pleasure which I cannot resist given your harassing new playthings. Holiday? It must be “Take Great Pleasure in Cat Confinement” week. Enjoy your rock-star parking in our Beloved Warden’s spot while it lasts. Cleo.



Day 4

Kevin san, Thank you for an answer about parking. I’m just in your house. Yes, I will add dry food for them when I go out. They are just eating wet food now. Have a good night! Takeyo


Dear Cat Sitter, Thanks be to our Beloved Warden who cares enough to see that our basic food needs are adequately met. We may survive this week after all. Cleo



Day 5

Kevin san, Hello, How are you? It was a pretty day today, I think Cleo chan & Naka san spent very comfortable. But they looks miss you, so sweet day by day. Cleo loves brushing and Naka san loves play with a new toy everyday!


Thank you so much! We miss them back. Keep the updates coming!! Cheers, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, Pretty day? Oh, the Little Black One and I wouldn’t know anything about that since we remain confined with even our exercise yard privileges revoked. Yes, the Little Black One is much too easily amused. I continue to search for his missing feline pride and integrity…while you brush me. Cleo



Day 6

Hello! How are you ? We are doing well! They are relaxed very much. Naka san is not shy boy anymore. They love CIAO treat and Sheba, eat well. But I worry that the main food does not decrease very well. Their box (toilet)has no problem. Have a good night! Takeyo.


Takeyo, Many thanks for the update! They are mainly wet food eaters. As long as they are eating the normal wet food we are okay with that. If you cut back on treats they will eat more dry, but it’s okay to spoil them while we are away! We will be home soon now. Thanks for watching over our furry friends! Cheers, Kevin


Dear Cat Sitter, As much as I long to lodge prolonged protest with a hunger strike, the Little Black One lacks the will power and intestinal fortitude to see it through. Thanks be again to our Beloved Warden for demanding additional treat rations be distributed! We may be lost and locked away, but not forgotten. Cleo



Day 7

Kevin san, Thank you for the advices about the food for them. If it is so, they are normal and they are eating the dry food little by little. They have no problem! Naka san attacks to Cleo, then he is scolded by her. He looks like a near state for daily life. It’s a fine day this morning, but a rainy season seems to start Okinawa.


Takeyo, Hello! Yes Naka wants to play fight, but Cleo has never been like that, even with her brother before he went missing. We tried to stop him, but there’s no way. There is no harm and they get along okay! Thanks, Kevin and Jody


Dear Cat Sitter, If cats could cry tears the rainy season would’ve started seven days ago. And as far as this “state of daily life,” I remain mystified as to why I am continually subjected to the Little Black One’s bullying and harassment with proper intervention by the authorities. If I wasn’t such a proper and proud maternal dignitary, my scolding would involve a lot more blood. Cleo



Day 8

Kevin san, How are you? Cleo chan & Naka san are very good! They eat food well and their box has no problem, I’m so happy. Naka san looks for his fevorit toy in my bag and waits it out. Cleo chan also play with toy, goes around, watches outside, and request me to drain the tap water of bathroom. She looks very relaxed. A typhoon aproches to Okinawa, I hope that it go away and you have no problem coming back. If you have any problem please let me know to extend to visit. Cleo chan miss you. She is waiting for you and crying. She is so cute!


Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, I fear drinking from the same stale stagnant water that the Little Black One enjoys with open abandon. For me, I demand clean fresh untainted liquid nourishment, a basic animal right, confined or not. Cute is a relative term. Cute is me biting off the Little Black One’s ears. Or brining home fresh gecko-meat from the exercise yard. And my crying: crocodile tears. Cleo



Day 9

Hello Kevin san & Jody san, Cleo chan & Naka san are very fine! They will meet you well tomorrow. The typhoon will come here on 12th or 13th, so I believe you are safe. I am glad that we got used very good friends for these 9 days and they are doing very well. So I miss to say them Good bye tomorrow, but they will be so Happy to see you again! Please be careful on your way to home. Takeyo.


Takeyo-San, We are at the airport in Cambodia and will be home in just about 14 hours. Thanks so much for taking such good care of our family! Please leave the key where you found it after the morning visit. Thanks again!! Regards, Kevin


Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, very good friends aside (and this characterization is more than debatable), we will be equally has happy to say goodbye to you and finally be paroled by our Beloved Warden from this infernal confinement, storm or no storm. Cleo



Day 10

Dear Kevin san, How are you doing? I finished my work just now. I left a key in pacage on the point where you left before, please make sure it. Cleo chan and Naka chan are very fine, so don’t worry! Thank you for the everything! Takeyo


Dear Cat Sitter, All my bitching (and scolding) aside, on behalf of me and the Little Black One, THANK YOU for everything. Until we meet again. Cleo


For a truly wonderful pet-sitter on Okinawa, please contact Takeyo Yamamoto at (cell) 080-6495-9365, email at  See her company “Pet Sitter SOS” website at


Catppucino? Cat Cafés in Japan

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.”  ~ Charles Dickens

“Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose.”  ~ Garrison Keillor

“Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash.  That one is the cat.  If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”  ~ Mark Twain

How ‘bout this idea for a business plan:  the public paying for the opportunity to just sit in a room full of cats, while hazarding cat hair in their “catpuccino”??

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

Nekokaigi in Kyoto

Probably seems like a non-starter to most of us in the West, but “Cat Cafés” are actually quite popular in Japan.  In short, most apartments and condos in Japan do not allow such mousers, and many young Japanese adults continue to live with their parents until late in the twenties, where there may not be a family feline.  The Japanese people love cats no less than anyone else in the world, and thus, cat lovers here need places to go to visit temporary tabbies, all the while enjoying a favorite drink or two.  Hence, the birth and popularity of Cat Cafés in Japan.

If the cats don't like you, you can buy treats and bribe them....

If the cats don’t like you, you can buy treats and bribe them….

“The cuteness of cats is common to the whole world!”  ~ from the Nekokaigi website


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friendsKyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, high perched catNekokaigi (neko translates as cat 猫), located in Kyoto, is one of the more famous Japanese Cat Cafés, having been featured in many TV programs and newspapers since opening.  Although I swear that I had mentioned Cat Cafes to Jody sometime a few months ago, for some reason, I happened to mention it again during our recent winter holiday in Kyoto, Japan.  Probably as a joke.  However, when I merely touched on the concept, Jody quickly became utterly consumed with the idea.  Like in searching the internet, reading various articles, and finally, localizing Nekokaigi in Kyoto over the course of about three hours.  Of course we had to go!  Or at least one of us did.  I had to admit though, that after almost a week of walking the many tourist attractions throughout Kyoto and the surrounding areas, all the while missing our own personal feline friend back home in Okinawa, we were in need of just this kind of respite from our vacation.


Uh, she might look sad ’cause she has to wear clothes!

The concept behind a Cat Café is deceptively simple:  found only in Asia, it is a space designed primarily for the creature comfort and amusement of cats, but which also can serve to host humans, so that both can touch and play with each other at will…while only one side enjoys a beverage or two.  Is it you playing with the cat, or the cat playing with you?


Foxy Lady. Who wouldn’t like to rest on a cat??


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat staring contest go! 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, cat mommaNekokaigi, located in the center of Kyoto, would be a great place to cool off during a hot and humid summer’s day, and we can attest that it’s a wonderfully warm abode to reinvigorate oneself on a cold winter’s day.  In either case, it’s ideally situated and serves as a pleasant spot to rest your feet during a breather from the day’s trek through the city’s many temples, shrines, and parks.  It has even become a popular spot for first dates and dating in the city, allowing the cats to help break the ice and facilitate displays of emotion and affection for the traditionally shy Japanese.  In our case, it afforded Jody her feline fix to help makeup for her time away from Cleo back home.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy cats and Japanese visitor

Where’s the furniture for the humans??

After literally an afternoon of researching and reading aloud about each non-human resident of Nekokaigi, we were ready to head out and make some new furry friends.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Jody finds the sign!Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catHowever, be forewarned:  this cat café is fairly hard to find.  The café is not easy to spot so make sure to check the website if you do not read any Japanese. While there is a sign on the sidewalk, it is small and non-descript.  Oh, and it’s in Japanese.  According to the maps on the web and their Facebook site, we knew we were in the right area, within even a block (or two).  We initially couldn’t find the café, and searched for a good while, to the point where I began to question if there really was a cat café…while we were walking right by the place!  Only by looking at some of the photos posted from inside the café in the previous 30 minutes could we confirm that indeed they were open…and nearby.  And upon viewing the photos taken from within the café looking out of their storefront, we could then triangulate its position by finding the objects (in this case some uniquely Asian inspired rooflines) visible in their view shed by looking across the street.  We required multiple passes in front of the café before actually finding it.  Oh, and it’s on the 2nd floor as well.

Tortoiseshell Cat

As advertised, she was asleep the whole time.


Not my scrawl mind you. A professional produced graphic from the shop’s own website. This photo WILL help you locate the café!

nk2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, peakaboo with new feline friendsAfter finally finding the cat cafe, we did notice a cat drawn on their small portable sign along the sidewalk, but it’s just too easy to miss.  Admission for one hour is 900 yen (it has increased this spring) and 30 minutes extensions are 450 yen; drink purchases are not required, but are extra.  The website calls attention to just how busy the café can be on the weekends and holidays, and the proprietors therefore endorse visiting on the weekdays.  There is a list of “rules,” but they are nothing awkward or unreasonable, except they don’t allow guests under 13 years of age.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy crotch cat friend

There aren’t many pictures of Jody with the cats…(wink).

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 5

Japanese Bath

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Japanese bath bathing cat 2Although the staff – called “submanagers” in Japanese – at Nekokaigi don’t speak much English, they certainly try their best to communicate.  There are English guides available, and they attempt to corral the cats in your direction if you remain embarrassing lonely for an extended period, and make sure that your refreshment needs are well attended.  When we were there on a Friday afternoon, there was a staff of two, two young Japanese girls, a Japanese woman (who seemed to be working and totally ignored the cats), and then only one other male-female (human) couple.  There was plenty of room for all of us – human and cats, and, in fact, the cats outnumbered the humans during our entire stay.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin playing ball with his new feline friends

Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, Kevin making new cat friends 2Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, sleepy clothed catWe arrived in the afternoon, which if you know anything about cats, is probably not the best time to expect any meaningful interaction.  Rather, it was lazy afternoon nap time.  Still, we had our share of friends for the afternoon, or at least one of us did.  For someone who was so taken by this idea, let’s just say Jody was lucky to have me there to be her friend.  Even though catnaps seemed to be the rule, we paid for two extensions of our stay anyway, enjoying our hot tea along with matching up the online cat characterizations (posted throughout this blog) with the actual citizenry.


Kyoto Japan Winter 2014, Cat Cafe Nekokaigi, my new cat friend is a crotch snuggler

Cleo didn’t meow at me for a WEEK after seeing this photo, the cat-equivalent of lipstick on the collar….

If you find yourself with some idle time in a major Japanese city, and want to experience something truly different and totally Asian, check if there is a local cat café at your particular destination.  It’s well worth the few dollars you’ll spend for a coffee or tea…but the new friends you will make remain priceless.

Saying "Sayonara" at Nekokaigi

Sadly Saying “Sayonara” at Nekokaigi

The details on the Nekokaigi are below:

MapOikekano bldg 2F, 590, Oikedaitocho, Nakagyo-ku Kyoto, Japan

(京都市中京区御池通麩屋町西入ル 御池大東町590御池加納ビル2F)

Phone:  075-212-0577 (Japanese only)


Hours:  11:00~20:00 (Last admission 19:00)

Closed on Tuesdays

*** No children under 13 years old ***

Castillo Condo de Gato

“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.” ~Pam Brown

“When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her.” ~Michel de Montaigne

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.” ~Steven Wright

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny.  I do.

Cleo does not find Cat Sushi very funny. I do.

Today is the day that our furniture is finally “supposed” to arrive in Okinawa.


You see, we live here in Okinawa in the future…depending on where you are.  Thus, the ship could actually be arriving tomorrow contingent on the time zone associated with its arrival date.  But what’s one more day when we’ve had to wait an extra seven weeks (see Castaway for the full sad story on the contracted shipping company simply forgetting to ship our household goods).  As of today it’s been exactly 16 weeks since the total of our “stuff” was packed up….

The women in my life.

The women in my life.  I’m thankful one of them shaves.

BUT, let’s assume the furniture IS arriving.  Given that we may only have a week or so to wait for actual delivery (unloading, customs, movement, more government waste and inefficiency surely has to be expended), and since I’ve covered some of the more important of our possessions that we’ve been missing since packing out our home back in the first week in August (see Do Sweat the Small Stuff and Easy Chair), I felt it was high time to give the third member of our home a voice about the same.  Of sorts.  She’s a cat, you see.  And she only speaks Spanish.

That book is in English.  Cleo only pretends to read....  I think.

That book is in English, which Cleo only pretends to read…. I think.

Sammy-Boy was a talker.  And spoke English.

Sammy-Boy was a talker. And spoke English.

I got Cleo – short for Cleopatra (of course), and her brother Alex  – short for Alexander the Great (of course), about six months after my former cat Sammy (the coolest cat on the planet) went missing in very early 2010.  Alex and Cleo, siblings, were very dissimilar from the very start; Cleo much more demure, light on her feet, and with rather odd leopard-like markings; and Alex, a somewhat blundering lover-boy of a more typical gray short-haired tabby tomcat.  Cleo has always been a smaller cat, and her size has allowed her the ability to jump extraordinarily high and better assume risks that most cats would instead take a nap over.  She has always been a climber, and always has immediately looked for the highest place she could attain in any given situation, and when that perch is attained, she promptly awards herself with a safe, quiet, and undisturbed catnap.

Cleo's nap spot as a kitten.

Cleo’s nap spot as a kitten, high in my office.  I bet she was reading my email….

What’s funny about this is that Alex has always tried to follow Cleo.  You see, he’s not nearly as interested in climbing, or heights for that matter.  As a fit and small kitten, Alex could climb and jump to the places his sister was able to easily navigate to, places that were usually not large and were rather isolated.  And once there, Alex would simply be too damn big for both of them to be comfortable.  And being more of a sumo wrestling build than his sleeker sister, as he got older (read:  BIGGER), he eventually gave up climbing in the same way and to the same places, and Cleo assumed her highness as Queen of the Household, wherever that home may be.

Cleo shared her perch, but the boy's ass became just too big.

Cleo (standing) shared her perch, but the boy’s ass became just too big.

There weren’t that many high places in my old condo in Pensacola (above), but there were plenty of high places for Cleo to explore and call her own in the house I shared with Jody there (below).

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervises food-service operations from on top of the kitchen cabinets.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations.

Cleo supervising Christmas Decorations from our rooftop.

Not a step?  Cleo supervises DIY projects from on-high.

Not a step? Cleo supervises DIY projects from the top of a ladder.

Sleeping on the 8' plant ledge.

Cleo “sleeper-vising” on the 8′ high plant ledge.

However, moving to Okinawa initially really shook up her entire world.  It was bad enough she had to adjust to the loss of her brother in our lives; she literally became a different cat the very day he went missing.  Not only did the hotel in Pensacola suck for her prior to our flights to Japan, the journey across the continental United States and the Pacific Ocean was unfortunately somewhat eventful for our wee feline friend.  I mean if you count me almost killing her (see 9 Lives and Hard Travels)….

Cleo's thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression....

Cleo’s thoughts on moving overseas are best summed up in this expression….  The audio was something akin to “¡Vete a la mierda!”

In our “pet-friendly” room upon arrival in Okinawa – which simply means that the room was only friendly to pets exactly because it reeked of dirty, wet dog – Cleo immediately found the high spots.  But they weren’t very high, nor were they overly accessible…or apparently comfortable enough to nap.  Being locked in those two tiny rooms day after day for an indoor-outdoor cat is bad enough, but not having the space to climb and the security of her high perches I’m sure no doubt contributed to her rising stress.

Cleo scoffs at the elevation in the TLF.

Cleo scoffs at the lower elevations in the TLF.  Who puts a fan on a throne?

So, as we shopped around for a place to live here on the island, we always kept Cleo’s needs, and dare I say “wants” in mind.  We fully intended to rent a home, where Cleo could explore these foreign and far eastern shores easily from our windows and doors.  However, as we realized that what homes were left after the summer moving crush were much too expensive, too small, or poorly located, and as we shifted to looking at apartments and condos, we still looked at each location for what it could bring to and do for Cleo.  And what it might take away.  She’s family, after all.

Cleo's monster-smashing fantasies.  Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.

Cleo’s Asian monster-smashing fantasies. Tough to achieve from the 5th floor.  Tougher lost on the 3rd….

Living on the 5th floor of condominium building is tough on a cat.  There are a number of buildings all along the seawall here that look the same.  Further, every floor of the buildings and the exterior of every condo on every floor all look exactly alike.  So even though Cleo has these little windows in our place that we leave open where she can come and go as she pleases, no doubt she finds navigating the outside world quite daunting.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic.  Or more so perhaps this...thing.

She also may be afraid of the urban traffic. Or more so perhaps this…thing.

Especially daunting, it seems, are the stairs!  Or more appropriately, the idea of multiple floors.  As much of a climber as Cleo may be, she turns out to be vertically challenged!!  For an animal that had a very extensive and detailed mental map of our neighborhood back in Pensacola, Cleo can’t seem to grasp the notion – or difference – between, say, the 3rd floor and our own!  We often have to go remind her, after hearing her cries for help, that “…we live up here silly, not down there.”  It seems her maps are one-dimensional only.  I’m pretty sure she hasn’t ventured past the 3rd floor, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping her.

She pleaded to keep the hutch.  It had to go....

She pleaded to keep the hutch. It had to go…back to help decorate a Cracker Barrel.

All this means that she really can’t – and doesn’t explore much here.  She likes the balconies at the front of our place and side where she can watch the goings-on along the seawall.  She most likes to hike down the breezeway and check out other peoples’ side balconies, where she’s been rescued more than a couple of times.  Jody and I have always felt bad for her because of this, and since our condo has relatively low ceilings (eight feet or so), we knew we had to do something.

Cat Castillo; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Castillo de Gato; Cleo rules from her Throne(s) on High.

Thank goodness the Japanese have a robust love affair with their cats!  A trip to Pet Box and roughly $200+ later, we’re home building what has become Cleo’s new home away from her home, her very own high-rise Catland Condo.  In the little Spanish I do know, I heard her instantaneously correct our labels by quite clearly saying, “CASTILLO!!”  There’s no point in arguing with her.

"See, it says right here, "Cat Castillo"!'

“See, it says right here, “Castillo Condominio de Gato”!’

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo takes the stairsCleo’s Castillo is truly her place, err, PALACE.  Here again she has those high places to jump and climb to, but more so, the corner post perches all supply those high, relatively inaccessible places that make her feel so secure.  She sleeps, err, rules from her perches most of the day after her breakfast and morning forays outside.  She lounges, err, holds court up there (when not demanding from her servant Jody to drink from Jody’s bathroom sink) during the evenings when not playing or otherwise interacting with us, or the outdoors.  She even has a $100,000 (basically the expense of renting our place over three years) view of the East China Sea and some truly magical sunsets from her cathedra….

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow....

Sometimes I wonder if here Cleo thinks of herself more as Chairman Meow….

There’s little doubt that every dollar spent on this giant cat toy is completely worth the cost; it is a small price we pay for the upheaval we have caused in Cleo’s life.  And there’s even less doubt that Cleo appreciates this act of caring kindness, as every night after the lights are out and things have quieted down, she meanders into our bedroom, jumps up on the bed with a small meow, and chooses to sleep with us, her lowly subjects, in our low and lowly bed, quite removed from her highness.

Okinawa Sep 2013, cat condo, Cleo in her new home

9 Lives and Hard Travels

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

Cleo Contemplates her Lives

“The cat has nine lives:  three for playing, three for straying, and three for staying….” ~Ancient Proverb

Japanese Maneki Neko

Japanese Maneki Neko

The maneki-neko (招き猫?, literally ‘beckoning cat’) is an ubiquitous Japanese figurine akin to a lucky charm or good fortune talisman, usually made of ceramic, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.  It is NOT of Chinese origin, as some believe, although it has become increasingly popular there among Chinese merchants.  The figurine depicts a cat, traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail often highly stylized, beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed at the entrance in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses.  Some are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning one from a distance.  The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, or fortune cat, but usually only in English.  In my mind, although I can find no evidence to support this conclusion, clearly the idea of having multiple lives is connected directly to this strong notion of “luck.”

It seems my cat may have used one for staying with us on our journey to Okinawa, purely to my own lament after accidentally trying to kill her!

The story starts long before the actual, shall we say, “troubles.”  And while this story is really about our journey across the pond to Japan, it uses as a hook and centerpiece cats, in particular, my cat named Cleo.

Short for Cleopatra mind you.  She wanted that to be made perfectly clear.  I imagine she views herself akin to the image below (Nine Lives ~Hanyafuda Suru Nyan!~ – Hanafuda card game with cat girls).

Cat Girls - and Cleo's Alter Ego - from a Japanese Card Game

Cat Girls – and Cleo’s Alter Ego – from a Japanese Card Game

Over the last two weeks we have been busy at work (and some measure of play) getting ready for our move.  This involved, not in the least, three separate moves of our household goods over five days; riding my motorcycle three hours to Montgomery to be placed into storage, and then riding back to put a truck to the same modality of hibernation; cleaning & fixing the home to the last second to get ready for renters; moving into a pet-friendly hotel for a week, and finally, making sure our furry little friend could go along with us, in as much comfort as possible.

Ready to Go?  Probably Not....

Ready to Go? Probably Not….

I’ve already written extensively about the cat-astrophic requirements for importing an animal into Japan (see my blog entitled “Feline Fiasco”).  Part of this process, however, involved getting Cleo acclimatized to her hard crate and soft carrier (yes, we had to lug both 8,000 miles), which, for a grown cat, is next to impossible.  But we had to try….

Cleo's Traveling Confinement

Cleo’s Traveling Confinement

Cleo went back and forth with us to and from the house our last week in Pensacola while we were in our hotel.  Partly because of the above-mentioned reasoning (acclimatization), a little more to let her roam freely in and around our house where she is a very independent indoor-outdoor cat (with her own cat-door), but mostly because we KNEW she would try and make an escape when housekeeping opened our hotel room door.  After numerous car rides she continued to serenade us with her growing displeasure.

A genuine test came, however, when she had to make the long trek to the vet at Eglin Air Force Base, at least an hour (each way) in her hard crate.  Just our luck that Pensacola was in the process of changing military vets, and due to USDA and Japanese government requirements, Cleo needed a special “international health certificate” to go along with her medical record that is now as thick as most teenagers’ are.  Yep, she’s clean, micro-chipped, vaccinated, dewormed, de-mited, anally probed, titer-tested, and generally roughly handled by the veterinary establishment.  Never mind that I or you could be carrying any host of deadly disease….  The more you stop and really think about this – the contrasting way we treat the migration (and immigration) of animals versus people – the more it really stops to make much sense.

But Okinawa is rabies-free – and kudos to the Japanese.  Really.  That’s pretty cool.

Now about its problems with HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and a whole “host” of parasitic diseases (Get it!?!  There’s a pun there.)….  It’s not that Okinawa is any different than other countries in this respect; quite the contrary.  However, it helps highlight my point about, to some not insignificant degree, as to a poorly-placed focus on disease transmission and control.

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

A Kabuki-Stylized Bakeneko

The Maneki Neko described above, is also a type of bakeneko, the characteristics of which Cleo sometimes adopts.  Bakeneko (化け猫?, “monster-cat”), in Japanese folklore, refers to cat yōkai (spiritual beings) with supernatural abilities akin to those of the kitsune (fox) or tanuki (raccoon dog).  There are a number of superstitions that detail how ordinary cats may transform into a bakeneko;  bakeneko then haunt and menace their household.  A bakeneko with a forked tail is referred to as a nekomata (猫又?, or 猫股 “forked-cat”).

In our case, the pre-traveling trials and foresighted feline forays did not appear to be paying dividends.  Since Cleo is so bad at carrying a “CAR-aoke tune” (Jody’s joke, not mine), we decided to let her roam freely in the vehicle, which I can assure you is NOT a good idea.  Of all the places Cleo could wander, she continually wound up lodged behind and/or around the brake pedal at Jody’s feet.

I’m convinced it was by pre-mediated design as a bakeneko.  After all, she has more lives to survive vehicle “mishaps.”  Anything to get out of that car.  I salute her resolution and commitment.

Anger Kitty

So, the big travel day comes, and we are off to the airport with our 5 carry-ons (includes the cat, but please don’t repeat that that to her, you know, because of the bakeneko problem), 6 pieces of luggage (5 of which were pretty damn near our limit of 70 pounds), and our smiling faces at 4 am last Thursday.  Based on our conversations with the vet, we “medicated” Cleo with about 8mg of Benadryl earlier that morning, which in the past has worked exceedingly well with my other cats.

Luggage.  Can you Spot the Cat?

Luggage. Can you Spot the Cat?

“Medicating” a cat is not in any way analogous to one having to take, say, a large abhorred pill that tastes really badly.  It is in some ways similar to trying to give a toddler some of that really thick, nasty, refrigerated oral liquid antibiotic that everyone around my age (mid 40s) should remember with a fair amount of visible disgust on their faces.

If Only Cats Had Thumbs - and Dressed Better

If Only Cats Had Thumbs – and Dressed Better

Except add claws.  And very sharp teeth.  And the uncanny bakeneko-inspired ability to wiggle away from just about anything but a fierce choke-hold.

Okay, that’s a wee-tad over-dramatized.  All you really have to do be is not afraid to grab and hold a cat’s scruf….

Cleo does well during our wait in Pensacola and our first leg to Houston.  As well as can be expected for a caged-animal used to her near-complete freedom.  And most likely better than her owners, both stressed with her displeasure and quite possibly a few irrational conclusions of possible discomfort and notions of suffering.

The Benadryl did, if anything, turn her healthy and vocal meow into a more pathetic, low and slow drawl of complaint.  More stressful to us, certainly, than the former!

However, we do decide once safely in Houston to try and medicate her again.  Mainly because there were times when she would rather violently rock and struggle in her carrier while meowing quite loudly and alarmingly.  It’s difficult to read your cat; they are not like your own children.  With babies and toddlers, astute parents learn quickly how to properly evaluate an annoyance cry from a distressed shriek.  It’s all too easy to misinterpret a different species….

The Girls in Houston

The Girls in Houston

We find a family-friendly restroom in the airport.  Note that the signage on and around these areas say nothing about being furry-friendly!  And there’s certainly no rest involved, not for a cat.  We let her out, auspiciously to give her water and “a break” from her confinement, but unlike a human prisoner, there is no equating this momentary freedom with any conception of thanks.  Or any curtailment of her stress.

[This leads to an interesting tangent – and possible business prospect if not a grandiose idea for (multiple) patent(s) – about truly pet-friendly spaces at airports.]

Cleo vigorously explores these new surroundings, reacting to all the outlandish sounds and abnormal smells with extreme caution and high alert.  Jody and I ready the next does of meds, and although Jody points out how jagged the 1/3 of a Benadryl pill piece is, I casually blow off this alarm.

A decision I will come to regret.

That's a 7,000 Mile Line....

That’s a 7,000 Mile Line….

Jody does the holding, prying, and prepping for dosing.  I hold firm in a totally unfounded belief that as a highly trained and certified perioperative nurse, somehow she knows how to handle my cat’s airway in with both the greatest effect and with least intrusion.  My role in this endeavor is as the “dose-er” to the dosed.  And unlike in execution by lethal injection, where a few people push buttons so theoretically no one knows who is ultimately responsible for administering any deadly drugs (doesn’t that make ALL of them equally responsible – an even worse ethical outcome), I know exactly who is to blame….

The pill goes in.  Not far enough down Cleo’s throat.  Jody tries in vain to get her to swallow.  Cleo either can’t, but in any case, certainly won’t.

Anything is better than Medicine

Anything is better than Medicine

I’m not sure how many cat owners get to see what happens when their cats taste a flavor that they detest in absolute terms.  Like as in an involuntary biological, physiological reaction.  From all my reading online, cats taste (and smell) quite differently than we do.  In fact, in the bitter and sweet ranges (to us), their experiences are radically different than ours.  Most meds we take are on the bitter to extremely bitter end of the spectrum, a place that quote, “cats detest.”  If any part of the pill gets on their tongue or near their specialized olfactory organ (in the roof of their mouth), they begin to violently wrench, salivate excessively, and literally foam at the mouth in attempts to rid themselves of their displeasure.  These effects are rather immediate and severe, and look deadly.

And it’s scary as shit.  But, experts always say that “foaming looks terrible but it is not dangerous or painful….”

Tell that to my cat.

This foaming went on for what seemed like 30 minutes, but in actuality was probably more like five; all-the-while I’m literally concerned whether she’s breathing, and just as literally, I’m sick to my stomach over the whole morbid affair.  I’m not sure what I would do if I was responsible for my cat’s death en route to Okinawa.


In retrospect, the funniest thought that rattle around my head, then full of racing fears, was that although I was recently re-certified as an Emergency First Responder (EFR) as a scuba diving divemaster (and for emergencies in general), the stupid course didn’t include CPR for animals!  In my life, I am more apt to have to do CPR on my cat than an infant, the latter of which I have very little contact.  Remember the conversation above about misplaced focus (wink)??

Cleo starts to recover, after spitting out the pill mind you.  And what started out as a quick measure to ease her longer-term suffering on the lengthy flight over the Pacific, turned into ten minutes of far worse suffering for Cleo.  You know it’s bad – really bad – when your cat voluntarily returns to her carrier without protest or sound, and peacefully lays down in complete defeat and surrender.


Exhausted and beaten, all of us make the journey to Japan.  Cleo spends another 19 hours or so in her carrier and crate, and what does she do when she is finally free in our lodge on Okinawa?

She loves us just the same.

Cleo Closeup

I feel as though I cost Cleo a life in Houston, a life for staying with us, for traveling unknowingly across the globe.  Welcome to Okinawa, Cleo, my once-again Maneki Neko.  Here’s good fortune to us all, and prayers for no more lost lives during the next three years.

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tora Tora Tora, The Attack on Pearl Harbor 1941

Tora Tora Tora, The Attack on Pearl Harbor 1941

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Japanese: トラ・トラ・トラ) is a 1970 American-Japanese war film that dramatizes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  The film was directed by Richard Fleischer and stars an ensemble cast, including Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, Sō Yamamura, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore and Jason Robards, and uses Isoroku (Admiral) Yamamoto’s famous quote, saying the attacks would only serve to “… awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve….”  The title of the film is the Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved over Hawaii.  Tora (虎, pronounced [tòɽá]) literally means “tiger,” but in this case it actually served a duality, encompassing both the strength, stamina, and agility of the carnivorous hunter t which it refers, as well as an acronym for “totsugeki raigeki” (突撃雷撃, “lightning attack”).

Tora Tora Tora Surprise over Hawaii 1941

Tora Tora Tora Surprise over Hawaii 1941

That’s all well and good.

But “Tora” is also the name of my Okinawan-born cat, adopted by my then family in 1999.

We had left the states on “surprise” orders to Japan.  At the time I was what the Navy labels one as “Not Physically Qualified” (NPQ) for flight, suffering from chronic and debilitating back pain and serious sciatica resulting from a severe back injury in high school.  Due to this status, I was not slated for a Department Head squadron tour, and since such billeting is required to advance in the aviation community, I become for Naval Aviation the proverbial round peg that can fit most any square hole.  Are there are always a lot of squares that no one wants anything to do with.

Japanese Influenced Tiger

Japanese Influenced Tiger

So, after 9 months of living overseas in Italy (they “stashed” me there on short-notice after a reservist backed out of NATO-based orders), I came home to reassignment to somewhere I had, and never had any intention of living, let alone traveling:  Japan.  It was a one-two-three combo knockout blow.

Or so I thought at the time.

Combo #1, a stiff right jab to the nose:  “You’re getting orders to Japan.”  I stumble back a step, somewhat dazed by the sharp pain of the words.

Combo #2, crossing blow from the left to the check:  “It’s a non-flying job.”  Confusion starts to reign as the throbbing realization of not being able to fly sets in.

Combo #3, a right hook square on the chin:  “…and you’ll be assigned to a ship….”  Tunnel visions and stars orbiting my psyche as I think about being “stuck” on a boat for months and years at a time….

Down to the mat I go, unreactive and stiff as a board, bouncing lightly upon first strike.  But as quickly as the Detailer – the guy who assigns orders (jobs) every two to three years – dropped me with this TKO, his gloves were found to be over-weighted with a healthy dose of misinformation.  The fight was called; a draw ensued.

Japanese Warplanes 1941

Japanese Warplanes 1941

It wasn’t Japan, but Okinawa to which I was being assigned.  And there is a serious difference between the two.  It’s like trying to call Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture as the same as “American.”  Okinawa happens to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, all just an easy shore-dive away.

While it was a non-flying job, I was able to maintain flying status the whole time, which meant I didn’t have to give up my special “Flight Pay,” which at the time made up a significant portion of my pay.  Discretionary income became very important for scuba diving, and using the island as a hoping-off point for some massive travels.

And, most importantly, I was not assigned to a ship, but to a Flag Staff on Okinawa while ashore, and when required to go underway, I was assigned to an Amphibious Squadron Staff, which is in no way, shape or form to be confused with “ship’s company.”  Who the hell joins the Navy to be ship’s company anyhow?!?

Cats in Japan have a Long Loved History

Cats in Japan have a Long Loved History

The news had to be broken to the family, which, at the time in mid-winter of 1999, was made up of my spouse, my two kids Danny (10) and Naomi (6), and our cat “Tiger.”  My ex took the news well; she’s one to take on adventure, in particular those involving traveling in and around Asian (she’s of API descent, a mix of European and Philippine blood lines).  While we were most worried about our daughter Naomi, it was Daniel, our son, who took the news the hardest.  And, as you may know from reading my previous blogs, all my cats speak Spanish and I can barely understand a word.  I really have no idea how Tiger felt.

Our Cat Tiger, 1999

Our Cat Tiger, 1999

It certainly didn’t interrupt her sleep schedule.

My ex and I decided that since this move involved so many unknowns, extra expense, and quarantine issues regarding our cat, that it was best to leave our cat in the United States, were at least there is a fellow immigrant feline fraternity for her to converse with.  I had strong suspicions that cats in Japan would not only NOT speak Spanish, they would frown upon such a furry fake amidst their company.  We found a great home for Tiger with a good friend, and in order to make this arrangement palatable to my daughter – a tomcat like me (at least in character) – I had to promise her that as soon as we were settled on Okinawa we would rescue a cat and bring her home….

Weird Japanese Anime involving Cats

Weird Japanese Anime involving Cats

Fast forward a few months and we are moving into our home in Okinawa, a very large multi-story, multi-bedroom “mansion” worthy of most connotations of the word (but a word often misused and abused by the Japanese!).  We went to the shelter on Kadena Air Force Base, and strolled through the strays and rescues.  It’s a daunting process, trying to determine which furriness would become fast and ferocious friends.  I pointed one cat out in particular to Naomi and the family – a clam, quiet cat with salt and pepper whiskers who was demure and classed amidst the wild chatter and meowing of every other cat scrambling for a quick escape.  She literally was not making a sound, and simply tracked our movements with an interesting gaze from the depths of her cage.

“How’bout this one?”  The staff comes over and says she’s a stray, probably about 3-4 months old, current on all her shots, and still with claws.

“Look at how clam and classy she is, and I love her black and white whiskers!”  It doesn’t take much to convince a six-year-old homesick little girl who’s missing one of her best four-legged friends.

She’s ours.

Tora, Summer 1991

Tora, Summer 1991

On the way home we start to brainstorm for a name.  We already knew that “Neko” was Japanese for kitten (we tried to keep a stray kitten in our temporary lodging, but got busted by management), and that didn’t seem fitting.  We threw around a lot of the more obvious names, playing on characteristic of our new-found friend.  None of the suggestions, from any of us, seemed to be…quite…right.

And then I said, “How’bout ‘Tora’?”

My ex, sitting in the passenger seat of our car, looks over at me while thumbing through her Japanese dictionary.  While she’s searching, my son asks “Why, what does that mean?”

“Well, it’s a word from a movie I saw a long time ago called Tora Tora Tora.”  To tell you the truth, I had no idea of its meaning, literally nor its use in the attack on Pearl harbor.  “I’m not sure what it means.”

“’Tora’ means Tiger in Japanese,” my ex proclaims with a knowing smile.

“That’s it, that’s it!!” Naomi quickly shoots back, excited about the coincidence of this particular label.

Naomi & Furry Four-Legged Friend Tora, circa 1999-2000

Naomi & Furry Four-Legged Friend Tora, circa 1999-2000

The Desiderata states clearly that the universe unfolds pretty much how it should, and this was one of those times in life where all the right pieces fit all the right places.  We named this newest Okinawan addition to our family to recognize both her felis catus heritage, as well her spatial and temporal relationship to the piece of our American family left back in the states.

Tora is still with us today, and lives with Naomi in South Florida.  Except Naomi is now a 20 year-old college student, and Tora is a distinguished and less active but more charming old lady at 14.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen her since leaving Okinawa (the second time) in 2005 during separation prior to divorce, but she will always live on in my heart as one of most favorite and cherished “my cats.”

Cleo, our current cat traveling to Japan, has large paws to fill in Okinawa this time around, but I do believe that she is filled with, as the Admiral hauntingly proclaimed, a terrible resolve to be surprisingly victorious….

Tora, Tora, Tora!!!

The Current King Family on our way to Japan!

The Current King Family on our way to Japan!