2011 marks the 15th anniversary of Kaori Mochida’s debut as the vocalist for the group Every Little Thing. Working also as a solo artist, Kaori’s transparent voice continues to be heard all over Japan. Since she was a child, her family has hosted cats. About five years ago, they took in a munchkin named Uta. Despite the fact that she swore to never again take in a cat due to the pain of eventual bereavement, Kaori gave in after being unable to fight the feline appeal. Perhaps it’s the way Uta’s round face and body teeters along on those short legs… The entire family seems to be totally in love with him. Today, I am joined by Haru, Kaori’s mother and Uta’s current guardian. From start to finish, the interview turns out to be an extremely lively one.
There’s always been a cat.
– Have you always lived with a cat?
Kaori: “I first had a cat when I was in the 2nd grade of elementary school. When my family was about to go out to eat somewhere, this stray kitten appeared at our side. I made a big fuss over it, like ‘oh, it’s soooo cute!’. But everyone in my family was so hungry. They said, ‘hurry up, let’s go!’ (laughs) . However, there was just no way I could forget about it – so I went out looking for it the very next day. When I came across the neighborhood woman who seemed to be feeding and generally taking care of the kittens, she said to me, ‘A number of kittens were just born. If there’s one you particularly like, feel free to take it home with you.’ I then took my mom to the cats and exclaimed, ‘Sorry, but please let me keep one!’ I decided to keep a male that I named ‘Chau’-kun. Then, if I recall correctly, we got our second cat, which was named ‘Pan-chan’ when I was either in 4th or 5th grade…”
Haru: “Yup, the silver chinchilla!”
Kaori: “Yeah, when we first took in Pan-chan, I felt a little bad for Chau-kun. Until then, everyone doted on him. Then suddenly, it was like everyone was going, ‘Pan-chan, Pan-chan, come here Pan-chan!'”
Haru: “That’s not true!”
Kaori: “But it’s true. Don’t cut me off… (laughs). Wasn’t Chau-kun always hiding in the corner of the sofa? And then Chau went and died during just the fifth year we him. I was so sad when that happened. I was just a 6th grader. I felt that Chau passed on some of his spirit to me – he willed me to do my best. At graduation, I eventually ended up as the class representative, starting my speech with something like, ‘We graduates…'”
Haru: “Oh, I totally forgot about that.”
– Um… in any case, you had two cats. So what happened to Pan-chan after that?
Kaori: “Pan-chan lived for 17 years.”
Haru: “True. She passed away just before her 18th birthday. She had kidney stones and cataracts and lots of other health problems. I think that she was fortunate that we found a very good veterinarian.”
Kaori: “At the time Pan-chan died, I was going through a rough period both professionally and privately. Because I was in complete misery, I gave up living by myself, which I had done for a while, and moved back in with my family.”
Haru: “I also responded tremendously to Pan-chan’s death. Because I definitely didn’t want to repeat going through such agonizing pain, I said that I would never again keep a cat.”
Though they didn’t intend to get another cat…
– So, what led you to get Uta-san?
Kaori: “She happened to walk by a pet shop.” (laughs)
Haru: “About a year after Pan-chan died, Kaori’s elder sister and I came across Uta at a pet shop on a shopping street in Kameari, near where we live. After telling Kaori about the cat, she got excited and said, ‘I want to see it, too!'”
Kaori: “Several days later, I visited the pet shop. In addition to the munchkin, there was a female scottish fold in the same cage. No matter what I did, both kittens wouldn’t take their eyes off of me. I couldn’t help myself from wanting to take them home, and there was no way I could separate the two kittens, so I bought them both. The male munchkin became Uta, and the female scottish fold became ‘Fura’. Though they have different mothers, we thought, ‘They can be brother and sister!'”
Haru: “They got along amazingly well. They always slept nestled up together.”
Kaori: “However, around her 3rd birthday, Fura suddenly died. At that time, I felt so bad for Uta. We put Fura’s corpse in a box and decided to spend the night alongside it together as a family. Soon, Uta-san was peering into Fura’s kitty coffin. Because they had always been together, Pan was probably wondering what would become of him. But now, he’s totally glued to my mom.”
Haru: “I think that’s natural. I’m the one taking care of him. I remember when we first took Uta in, Kaori said, ‘I’m definitely going to look after him.’ However, just as I anticipated, this hasn’t happened even once.”
Kaori: “Though I did live with my mother and older sister’s family for a while, there was both a small child and a cat around. This was just too crazy for me. I couldn’t get any work done whatsoever. (laughs) That’s why I’m not living at home anymore. So I now only get to meet up with Uta occasionally. When my mother calls Uta’s name, he responds with a ‘meow’. Moreover, when she tells him to come over, Uta will jump up on her lap. But for me… no response. Nothing!”
Haru: Anyhow, Uta sure is a coward of a cat. If only one person is around, he’ll gently rub up against you. However, if a number of people come in, he’ll run and hide himself away.”
Who’s the decision-maker in the family when it comes to names?
– Who decides on the names?
Kaori: “Either my older sister or I. We took the name ‘Uta’ from a female character in a drama by Shinji Ushima that was running at the time. Of course, our ‘Uta’ is a boy. (laughs). Mom also makes suggestions… like ‘Romeo’….”
Haru: “Yeah, isn’t that a cute name?”
Kaori: “Those are the only kinds of names you propose, so we reject them.” (laughs)
– Does Uta play with toys?
Haru: “Though we tried some out, he didn’t play with them much. However, sometimes it looks like he enjoys chewing on dolls. I, on the hand, have been collecting all the hair that he sheds when I brush him! My bag of Uta’s hair is already full. I think I might try to make some kind of doll out of it.”
Kaori: “Uta also likes to ‘cat punch’ my nephews with his short arms. It’s just so funny.”
– Is Uta picky about things like food and his litter box?
Haru: “The vet at the animal hospital we take Uta to has a policy against giving cats actual cat food. Instead, for the longest time, I fed Uta boiled strips of hand-tendered chicken meat. However, recently he won’t even touch the stuff. So now I’m feeding him a canned food called ‘CIAO‘. Though it’s still based on chicken meat, it also includes things like king salmon and vegetables. It has a nice aroma that makes it seem like something even people can eat. As for kitty litter, we only use green-apple scented ‘Tofukasu Pee‘. It completely cuts the smell of Uta’s pee. Moreover, because it’s made out of okara (tofu), we can just flush it down the toilet when we change the litter. It’s so convenient, we’ve been using it for a long time.”
– Even though you decided once that you would never keep another cat, here you are with Uta. What do you think attracts you to cats?
Kaori: “As always, it comes down to a comparison with dogs. But there’s just something in the way cats come up to you and say, ‘give me attention’ – I don’t know how to explain it. I also like how cats seem to mind their own business in moderation. However, they will also come up to you if you are kind to them. They’ll wait for you to return home and let you pet them. That kind of distance is irresistible…”
Haru: “When all is said and done, you just like cats. You just do.”
Kaori: “You’re interrupting me again!” (laughs)