Musician Miu Sakamoto — While astray, fate led me a cat Sabami

Jan 16, 2011 / Interviews

Photo: Shin Suzuki / Edit&Text: Madoka Hattori / Translation: Adam Moore

Miu Sakamoto, a professional musician splitting her time between New York and Japan, and her cat companion Sabomi, well known and loved on her owner’s twitter and blog. Miu, used to having cats around her in the home since a young age, describes the fateful story of how, a year ago, she came to meet the cat she describes as her “soulmate”. Photographer Suzuki visited their home, and give us the first candid glimpse of the naturally confident Sabami.

Living in NY with 4 cats.

– Did you always live in a house with cats?

As long as I can recall, I have always had cats around me. When we relocated to New York, we took with us a cat we had found when I was 7. It lived with us for 20 years until passing away. We named it “Tabi” and, although it was a mixed breed, it was a white and very pretty cat. Just after we started living in New York, a person who had to return to Japan told us “I can’t take my cat with me, so I want you to take care of it”. There gradually came to be 4 cats, and we all lived together as one big family up until two years ago, when 3 of the cats passed away over a period of 3 years. Now, only a single cat remains, who we call “Cheese”. Those cats were always with us, so even when I started to live by myself in Japan, I had no desire to start a new “family”. I felt like, “My heart is with my family and the cats back home”.

– How did you meet Sabami?

One day while casually browsing a site dedicated to cat adoption ( I stumbled upon a picture of a cat who resembled Tabi, the cat who we had taken with us to New York. In her introduction it stated she had a “temperament like a princess”, and I couldn’t help but think “just like Tabi!”. On top of that, she had gloves (different coloration just on her feet) much like the last of my family’s cats to pass away, “Puu”. She was always the kindest of 4 cats we had, and I liked her personality. A cat somewhere between our first cat Tabi and the kindest cat Puu – it only took a glance, you could say.. I became very interested. I thought that they were probably looking for a family with a large house, so under the impression that I probably wouldn’t be successful, I sent the shelter a mail.

– You had some reservations about raising the cat while living alone.

I thought “To raise a cat by myself.. am I responsible enough to care for another on my own? I worried for a while. If the cat lives to be 20, it will be with me always until I’m 50 years old. What happens if I get married, and my future husband is allergic to cats? Or what about if I have a child. In life, a lot can happen, so I became worried as to whether we could stay together. But I came to think, in life, no-one can be prepared for everything.

– That’s true. So you could say, while you were worrying, you had a meeting with fate.

Yes. I went to visit the animal adoption center which had advertized on the site. Up until that day people had often asked “please take care of my cat”, or I received mails of cats “looking for a home”, but for some reason I always felt reluctant to take the plunge. However, once we actually met I knew that, with this cat, it would be fine! She looks just like the cat we used to have and, more than anything, I felt a connection. She was affectionate from the moment we met, and the first time she set foot in my home, she walked around confidently, as if she belonged.

– How old was Sabami when you met?

From looking at the teeth, they told me her age was around 3 years old, but she was a stray so we don’t know for sure. Sabami was an “urban stray”, and had undergone sterilization as part of a program, aimed at reducing the number of stray cats living in the town. The group which found her normally would have returned her to her territory after performing the operation. However, before being picked up, Sabami had apparently been tied tightly to a tree. And, despite having been treated so cruelly, she would meow and come close to whoever called her name.. For a cat like her, it is not in her nature to be suspicious, and it would be dangerous to return her to the street, so the program decided she should be turned over to the animal shelter and put up for adoption.

– Where did the name Sabami come from?

The group were already calling her Sabami. If you called her by this name she would meow and come close, so I kept it (laughs).

“Just like her owner!? Sabomi the fussy cat”

– The Sabami we see on twitter (@miusakamoto) and on your blog seems dignified and calm, and doesn’t seem too bothered by much.

She’s a very proud cat. She really does have a personality like a princess, and often acts like she owns the place. But actually, she is affectionate and likes to be pampered. When I’m away on location for a long time, my friends or a cat-sitter comes to feed and take care of her, and she is always affectionate to them right from the start. Just recently, for the first time she spent 5 days at my friends house and, as you can imagine, she really got a shock from being in another person’s home. In the beginning, she was meowing loudly non-stop. But after a short while she got used to it and, my firend showed me photos, but there she was, splayed out and relaxed in my friend’s arms (laughs). I thought, a little jealously, “get comfortable – but not that comfortable!”.

– It’s reassuring to have people around, who can support you raising a cat on your own. Does Sabami have a favourite spot?

Recently I moved her cat tower to a place where it’s struck by warm sun, so she often sits there on the top. She can use it to sharpen her claws, so she’s always scratching away. Sabami doesn’t like to move about so much, so she usually doesn’t run about the house. She’s not interested in cat toys, but likes to play with ribbons or fluffy bonbons.

– Does she have any preference in her food?

I tried to gave her canned food but she wasn’t interested, so she only eats dry food. When she was a stray, canned food would quickly go bad, so I think she may have only ever eaten dry food. Lately, her stomach has started to stick out a bit (laughs), so I switched to the low calorie version of Royal Canin, and mix in a little something to help prevent tooth decay.

– Sounds like she’s not too fussed about her food.

Well, if it’s not fresh then she won’t touch it. If it’s a bit moist, or if it has some of her hair in it she doesn’t seem to like it. In that way she’s very fussy. Even from the time the adoption center picked her up, she was this way. If there’s a crunchy floating in her water, even a small bit, she won’t drink it. “Give me some new water! Pleaaaassee!” she complains (laughs).

– Sounds like she really likes things to be clean. Does she often get a bath?

Actually to tell you the truth I’ve never washed her. I’ve bought the shampoo but I don’t want her to dislike me (laughs). The cats we have at home, the haven’t had a bath for 10 something years and most people around us never washed their cats. She keeps herself clean, and doesn’t go outside.. But when I’m in the bath she seems interested, so I will try it one day soon.

– Does she ever try to go outside?

She doesn’t seem too interested, so I dont put her out. But just in case she ever does venture out, I installed a microchip in her. She ‘s registered with the AIPO (Animal ID Promotion Organization) so if she gets lost and picked up by an animal home, they can trace the owner of the pet. When you receive a pet from an adoption center, it is common to install a chip like this. During the Kobe earthquake, many pets were seperated from their owners and, in the chaos of it all, never got reunited. The ones who had this microchip installed were all returned to their families without a problem. We don’t know when a similar thing might happen in Tokyo. There are pros and cons of installing such a chip in but, if she ran away and I never saw her again it would be too sad and, if an owner is not located within a week of an animal being found, it is common practice that the animal is put down. Therefore in my case, I thought it was important to install the chip.

It’s all I can do to protect the animal.

– You are very pro-active when it comes to the conservation of rights for pets and animals. How did you become involved in the activities of “FreePets” – a group dedicated to consideration of the lives of those we call pets.

When chatting with my friends, I had mentioned that I’d like to do something about the harsh conditions of little animals stuck in the small pet shops found in downtown Roppongi and Kabukicho. Just then, it happened that a friend of my father’s who was an animal conservationist was there, and we got introduced. From there, through twitter, a group of like-minded people started to naturally come together, and we decided to start working together in earnest, and formed “FreePets”. It hasn’t even been one year yet but we were able to meet not only animal specialists, but also those who were involved directly in the care of animals.

– What are some details of the actions you are trying to take?

First, we made it our aim to somehow reduce the number of cats and dogs slaughtered in Japan – a number climbing to 28,000 yearly – and, keeping that reality and aim in mind, we try to spread word as much as we can of action which can be taken locally. Also, since no adequate law exists to help regulate those who handle animals cruelly or roughly, we will begin actions to move towards amending the law, and will petition regarding a law for animal rights. The members involved in “FreePets” come from many different walks of life, so each can help do their part in their own way, and help our message simply by spreading the word.

– “Making people aware of the current situation” is your first priority. It also helps to promote your message that you and Sabami met through an adoption program.

As a future action of “FreePet”, we want to encourage the message that, “if you want to own a pet, you should adopt from an animal shelter or protection agency” or, if you cant own a pet but still want to help, you can volunteer; we will start a project to help spread this message in elementary schools and other places of education. Also, we are thinking of planning a live event for charity. It’s really important to me for us to get the right information out, about how to help animals live a happy life around us, even to just a few people at a time.

The happiness to be found with a cat.

– Do you have a favourite cat book, or other works about cats?

I really like Fijita Tsuguharu’s “Book of Cat” – an artist well known for his drawings of women and cats. I’m also fond of the photographs of animal photographer Iwagou Mitsuaki. He is an old friend of my mother’s, and took photos of the cats in our family home. Actually his work is featured on the cover of her album “Ongakudo”  released 2 years ago – a photo of a jumping cat. I can also recommend two documentaries which explore the relationship and history between humans and cats, “The Cat Way” (Dir. Myriam Tonelotto) and “Dogs, Cats & Humans” (Dir. Iida Motoharu).

-Sabami also makes an appearance on the flier promoting your event “Direct MIUsical Vol 3.” When creating, are cats still a part of your thoughts?

You could say that. I’ve translated (into Japanese) two picture books about cats – “The 9-life Habits of Highly Effective Cats” and “Know Your Cat’s Purr Points“. Both books are a little bit funny – self-help books, that is to say, philosophy books aimed at helping cats. As a bonus, I created a CD to go with the books. It had titles “Toraneko” (tabby cat) and “shironeko” (White cat), about the cat’s we had in New York, and was created with Mito from Clammbon. My mother and father both have songs which feature cats, and the word “cat ” often makes its way into my songs. Just like in my daily life, my cat is always creeping in.

– Have you ever thought you would like to become a cat?

Yes, of course!! If you were born stray it would be difficult but… Cats are very good at finding a pleasant place to be, no matter what the environment. That’s what I like best about them.

  • name: Sabami
  • age: 3 (Estimated)
  • sex: Female
  • lind: Mixed Breed
  • Miu Sakamoto

    Musician. At age 9, moved with parents (Akiko Yano, Sakamoto Ryuichi) to New York, who relocated to extend their music careers. In 1999 began her own career in the music industry, with the release of debut album "Dawn Pink". Since its release, she has followed with albums "Harmonious" (2006), "Oboro Kanata Akiri Kehai" (2007), and PHANTOM girl (2010). In September 2003 published her first book of illustrated poetry "aqua", and continues to be active in multiple fields, while moving between New York and Japan. On January 19th 2011 she has planned and will host the musical event "Direct MIUsical vol. 3", also featuring Tabito Nanao.

    Official blog: "Come a little closer, stray cat"