In addition to directing the ‘SAB LETTERPRESS’ brand, Jitsuko Takei lives alongside a 12 year-old cat named Debi. With his gorgeous fluffy hair, Debi has become a quite popular cat model in magazines. We paid a visit to Ms. Takei, who says that her close connection with the cat is the basis of both her friendships and her profession.
Turning a Stray into a House Cat
– What breed of cat is Debi?
“I actually don’t know. The vet suggested that he may be a ‘Ragdoll.’ However, he began just as a stray cat that lived in my neighborhood. There was a family who fed him every now and then, so I assumed he was their cat – and he was just living in a half-stray fashion. But then they told me that they were just feeding him and were looking for someone to take care of him permanently. By that point, I had become quite attached to him, so I decided to take him home with me. He was about 3 years old, I think. The previous family had already named him ‘Debi.’”
– Has he gotten used to being a house cat?
“Other stray cats in the neighborhood would always run away when they saw me approaching, but Debi was different. He was the only one who would show me affection. So I assumed he must like people. When I took him home, he did a thorough investigation of the entire house – after which he evidently found it a comfortable enough place to sleep tummy up in the living room. I noticed that there was a bit of blood in his urine a few days before he came to my house, so I took him to the vet the day after his arrival and had him get a full check-up. He weighed 6.25 kilos! Considering Debi was a stray cat until just the day before, I figured he must have been good at maintaining his weight while living on the street.”
– How did the check-up go?
“There were no problems at all. I was at first a bit worried that during his life as a stray, he might have picked something up. But there were no illnesses to speak of – just a bit too much subcutaneous fat. The vet just advised me to feed him a pH-controlled cat food in order to get the blood out from his urine.”
– Can you tell us a bit about his personality?
“He is quite audacious. Or perhaps it’s better to say that he’s easy -going. He is a slow eater for a stray cat. Even though he came off the street, people tell me he handles himself with grace.”
Debi’s Secret for Getting Cast as a Model
– Can you tell us about Debi’s career as a model for fashion magazines?
“He gets photographed every now and then – but only by photographers and editors who I’m friendly with. He stays very calm in the studio as well. Because of his fluffy look, we get more photo jobs during autumn and winter – and especially at Christmas time.”
– Why do you think magazines and advertisements are so into cats these days?
“Maybe it’s because cats aren’t very obedient. Everybody intuitively knows how hard it is to take a good picture of a cat – but that hardship also brings a great feeling of achievement when they do get the right shot, I suppose. Moreover, even if a shoot does go completely haywire, at least everyone on staff will laugh if a cat is involved. Only cats could destroy the studio set or steal snacks and still get away with it. (laughs)”
– Tell us about these internationally well-known photos of Debi-san. We see him sitting on top of a rattan “HAMMOCK” table, which is produced by the furniture maker ‘E & Y’.
“Actually, this table was not made for cats. Matsuzawa-san, the representative for ‘E & Y,’ suggested that if Debi could climb into the rattan part, it would make for a good picture. So I took him to the shoot and he climbed in right away. I guess he found it comfortable because it’s a spot where only something the size of Debi could fit. I heard that the designer of the table, Mr. Futatsumata, pays close attention to the flow of ‘qi’ when he designs things, so I guess the cat caught the flow quite well.”
– Where is his favorite spot?
“He loves the dining room chair and the space ship-shaped cat house. He seems to like rattan. He’s especially fond of the cat-house, where he sharpens his claws. Of course it gets destroyed pretty quickly, so this one here is the second one we got. He used to run around all over the place, but lately he’s not so interested in his toys.”
– I hope this doesn’t sound offensive, but Debi has an ornamental sense of presence…
“That’s so true! When I put his photos up on Instagram, I always think that he doesn’t really have many ‘pose’ variations like other cats do. He doesn’t get lured away from his standard pose – even by food. So I guess there’s nothing we can really do about that. (laughs)”
Unknowingly Turned into a Cat Lover
– Have there been any changes in your life since you started living with Debi?
“I get attracted to cats wherever I go. I was a dog lover to begin with, but now am a total cat lover. I passionately tell my friends how wonderful it is to own a cat, and I even have paintings and other artworks made that feature Debi. All those cat-related goods, I can’t help but buy them all. I guess I am totally in love with cats.”
– I see you own Donko’s calendar as well!
“I have long been friends with Mr. Toyama. But ever since we both got cats, we talk about our cats non-stop. I went to visit Donko with Debi once, but then they started to punch each other and it just didn’t work out at all. I wonder why Debi has such a lack of social skills – especially considering he was once a stray… Maybe he thinks he’s human.”
– Do you consider yourself ‘cat-like’ in any way?
“My husband thinks I’m like a cat – mainly because when I communicate with him, I do it through my attitude instead of words. Cats don’t have any desire for recognition – they improve the atmosphere just by being there. It would be very difficult to reach such a state as a human, but I admire them for that. Also, Living with Debi has brought me many encounters. Just as I was introduced to the art of printing and had started ‘SAB LETTERPRESS’, it seemed as if whenever I met someone through business, they turned out to be cat owners. And we instantly became friends. He truly is my ‘beckoning’ cat.”
– So what was the impetus for starting up a letterpress brand?
“Around the year 2000, I received a souvenir card from abroad that was very cute. I asked my graphic designer friend how it was made and he told me how letterpresses are used. Having been just a housewife since quitting my job, I wanted something to do and the letterpress struck my fancy. With advice from my friend, I started to look for a craftsperson with whom to collaborate. I started out just selling postcards at my friend’s shops, but then attention to letterpress printing started to grow – and eventually the brand started to get recognition on its own. Then the ‘Letterpress Regeneration Exhibition’ was held in 2007. It showed that this seemingly lost technology was once again being recognized as a valid means of expression.”
– Have you made any prints based on a cat-motif?
“I am intentionally avoiding them. I’m afraid I’m just too emotionally attached to the subject matter… And rather than just making the designs I want, the core of our business is fulfilling corporate orders – incorporating letterpress printing into their projects. Strangely, even in the discussions swirling around these business topics, we almost always end up talking about cat-related goods. Because the birth of my brand coincides with my living with Debi, I’ll just continue to go about things in earnest as long as I can. All those ties and relationships I’ve made, both professional and private, I believe are gifts from Debi.”
– What is the best thing about having Debi?
“He always brightens my mood. My heart thumps when my eyes happen to meet his in the night. I love holding him tight in my arms and cuddling. We are like a couple of lovers. And he’s funny, too. Once in a while, I catch him striking the funniest pose. I never tire of him.”