February 11th 2023
Onto a new island and immediately a national holiday has thrown a spanner into the works, rising the price of accomodation on Shikoku island almost five-fold. Through some re-work, we will sidestep this price hike by leaving Shikoku for a night and staying at Onomichi back in Hiroshima prefecture. By doing this not only do we visit a place recommended to us by the cat cafe owners in Inuyama, but we can also do what I wanted to do the most in Japan: cycle across Seto Inland Sea.
The cycle is tomorrow, but for today Onomichi seems like Shikoku in being very off the beaten path. A small town with a cable car up to its very low peak, Onomichi is most famous for being one end point of the inland sea cycle, and second for having many cats. 'Many' is a stretch, at least compared to the balkans where you are swimming in strays, but there is certainly a vibe here unlike other places in Japan so far.
Sadly however, like everything in this country, branding and commercialism has taken over. Along Cat Alley (Neko no Hosomichi), we heard a cat screaming nonestop, and saw a couple cats kept in a long raised metal cage, the type you would see monkeys using to cross safely over your heads in a zoo. One of the cats was pacing nonestop, a behaviour called stereotyping which is quite indicative of stress and trauma. These cats were hidden from tourist eyes, in a closed cafe. We enquired, and even met the man who 'owned' Cat Alley. He angrily reassured us that the cats were just stressed because tourists feed them, and took the screaming cat out on a walk, yanking him by the neck the whole time to show it was all good. Talking to someone who worked in a nearby establishment, we were told that this practice was illegal but that no one could speak out about it. We will report it to the police, but I have low expectations. Japan has very weak laws and attitudes towards animal welfare.