Illustrator Kuniko Nagasaki × Soyo&Gonta — and her black cats: Soyo and Gonta

Feb 25, 2011 / Interviews

Photo: Shin Suzuki / Edit&Text: Madoka Hattori / Translation: Jae Lee’s very own illustrator Kuniko Nagasaki lives with two black cats named Soyo and Gonta. Soyo has never heard of the word shy and cooperated to play or eat in front of the camera while Gonta was being extremely camera shy and hid in the closet the whole time. We would like to introduce the pair of black cats living with Nagasaki this time.

Finding the love at first sight after overcoming a petto rosu

—How did you first come across Soyo and Gonta?

Eight years ago, my mother saved a black street cat and claimed it as Rokutaro. I started living with Rokutaro due to my mother. After about four years of living together, Rokutaro passed suddenly due to cancer. I was in such a shock I went into petto rosu (pet loss: Japanese medical term for depression due to animal loss) but soon I figured that the only way of overcoming the shock would be filling that gasping hole with another cat. I started searching for cat adoption web sites immediately to look for a black cat just like Rokutaro. Rokutaro was a boy cat but who I found was a female black cat wearing white socks. It was not exactly the same as Rokutaro aesthetically speaking, so I hesitated a little but when I did meet up with the cat, I loved her. I took her home with me that day and named her Soyo.

—How about Gonta?

The shock from Rokutaro’s death was so big I told myself not to wear my heart out for just one cat. It should be two cats. Also, I spend most days at the office so I worried that Soyo might get lonely by herself. I really wanted to get a boy black cat like Rokutaro though. I searched specifically for a black boy cat but had no luck online. It was when I took Soyo to the vet for a check up I heard that the hospital was looking after a black kitten. That is how I met Gonta. At the time, Gonta had stomach problems so the vet told me that I would not be able to take Gonta with me till they fix his stomach issues. It took about six months to get Gonta.

—The name ‘Gonta’ is usually a dog name in Japan.

When I was naming Soyo, I took such a long time I decided I want to do a quick naming for the second one. There is no meaning in it. Gonta was originally called ‘Nami-hei’ at the vet actually. Soyo is from Fusako Kuramochi’s manga “Tennen Kokkeko.” I liked the sound of it.

Totally Different

—Soyo came earlier than Gonta. Was introducing the two cats easy?

Soyo is very friendly overall so she had no problem living with a new cat. As for me, I had always been a cat person and at the most I had four cats living with me. Difference is, I used to raise my cats as outdoor cats but for these two, I’m keeping them as indoor cats and it is so different from raising outdoor cats. Sometimes the two cats will get really hyper at same time and start chasing each other at five in the morning. Of course, I become something to jump on when they start playing. I wish they would sleep at night but I guess the three years old cat is still a child.

—There are so many cat toys in this room

It’s not like I made a room dedicated to the cats on purpose. This room used to be my sister’s but when she moved out, I placed a cat tower there then got bit addicted into buying cat toys. It’s really difficult buying cat toys though. It’s not like the cats will play with the new toy, they always end up playing with the most random things.

—How about food?

It is usually 50:50 between canned food and dry food. “Solid Gold” from all-natural, organic cat food website Wan-nyan Ouendan Ponopono and the packaging is so eye-catching as well. I also give them “Neko kan” from Neko Sekatsu as for wet food. I try to entertain their taste buds and not get sick of eating just one brand. For dry food, I give them “Prescription Diet” from Hills which was recommended by the vet to prevent kidney stones. The dish is from “George” in Ebisu, it’s a pet goods store I really like. For Gonta, to keep up with his speed when it comes to eating, I had to get a heavy dish, o

—There are three toilets.

Soyo is a girl and doesn’t like to use same toilet as Gonta. The sand used for the toilet is “Tofukasu Sand” Actually, I was using toilet sand made of paper before but stopped when I found out that Gonda was eating them. I mean, Gonda was born with stomach problems so I always give him small meals and I guess that made him hungry. Hungry enough to eat toilet sand. I landed on “Tofukasu Sand” after trying out various sands for Gonda.

—Gonda seems to be very sensitive.

Gonda gets easily allergic, for example, during summer, He would lick his nipples endlessly. I had to take him to the vet every week to figure that one out. Soyo is totally fine and in good health but Gonda does take more attention and maintenances. But they are such nice cats and they are so good to each other. It’s almost like they are too nice.

Cats are difficult to draw, the illustrator says

—There are lot of designs out on the stores of black cats. What is that makes black cats mysterious and attractive to public eyes?

There are lots of black cat motif designs at my office but dolls my friend makes to even dog toys, there are too many black cat motif goods. I try not to get my hands on Everything that has black cat design on it, just ones I really like. Utrecht’s Muji Books project, “MITTENS&GLOVES” I found at Ginza Matsuya has two cats with black socks illustrated. I really like the illustration, it’s very detailed and has a great hand-drawn feeling to it. Another is Raymond Bradbury’s “The Cat’s Pajamas.” The book design is very cute, it’s cover corner is designed like a cat’s ear. My friend found “Neko Jyake 2” for me. It is a magazine filled with music record cover designs with cat illustrations. It is common to use the word cat among jazz musicians so I guess cats were used on many jazz record cover designs. Picture book “Aoi me no koneko” inspires me when I’m drawing.

—As an illustrator, do you draw cats often?

Black bodies and Quantum Cats” was a book about physics which I drew a black cat on the cover. I also drew different breed of cats for a calendar made by a pharmaceutical company that will be given out at vets. There was a time when I made a cushion based on Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat” illustration. But on daily bases, it is rare for me to draw cats. Of course when an offer comes to draw cats, I would take it but I don’t go out to promote cat illustration myself.

—Why don’t you?

I like drawing cats but the thing is, it is difficult. It is easier to draw dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, fox-faced dogs or flat-faced ones, there are many forms and variations I can choose from. As for cats, there are long-haired and short-haired ones but basic forms are all the same. It is difficult to find a new way of illustrating cats. Also, since I’m a cat person, I get more personal and tend to take more time when I’m drawing cats. Dogs are more- dry, for me.’s Twitter account picture is a cat playing with a bird. The illustration is very realistic. How do you draw cats?

I look at different breeds of cats and think which breed I am going to draw. For Twitter icon, it’s a Siamese. The point is at the black furs on face and feet so even for a small icon, it is easy to see the silhouette. For the Facebook icon, Soyo is the model actually. I initially drew a fluffy cat for the Facebook account but it was difficult to identify the illustration as a cat in such small icon. Soyo is very slim and her cat-like moves inspired me.