Photo/IllutrationChildren admire “cat furniture” at the Okawa Sangyo Kaikan complex in Okawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Oct. 7. (Ryuta Kuratomi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Sachiko Matsushima visited a festival with a mind to splurge on an intricate piece of traditional Japanese craftsmanship for her four-legged, furry “family members.”

A special section for “cat furniture” had been set up at the Okawa woodwork festival in Okawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, a sign that more artisans across Japan are using their skills to produce handmade items, such as beds, sofas and handbaskets, for felines.

The products are made of wood, bamboo and other natural materials that convey a feeling of warmth. And they are manufactured no less elaborately than corresponding products intended for human use.

Despite their high prices, typically from tens of thousands of yen to hundreds of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars), demand is so great that some producers cannot keep pace.

“The products are expensive, but I have this urge to shop for my beloved ones even at the cost of not buying anything for myself,” said Matsushima, who lives with six cats at her home in Kokura-Minami Ward, Kita-Kyushu. “They are living creatures like myself, and they are members of my family.”

Okawa is famed for its furniture industry.

Although 10,000 pieces of furniture from around 200 manufacturers were exhibited and put on sale during the city’s two-day festival that ended on Oct. 8, the miniature beds and sofas for cats were clearly popular subjects of cellphone photos.

All seven cat furniture manufacturers were represented in an exhibition for the first time during the festival.

The Okawa government began working with the producers a year ago on the cat-related crafts in hopes of promoting the excellent quality of the city’s furniture.

The products are the same in terms of raw materials and building process as furniture pieces for humans except they are scaled down for felines.

A first batch of promotional videos, featuring a bed and a sofa for cats, were posted online in October last year.

Both made-to-order products are priced at 110,000 yen ($980), excluding tax, and went on sale in November.

Orders have been received not only from customers in Japan but also from France, Belgium, Singapore and Hong Kong.

More than 50 cat furniture products have been sold so far.

Okawa’s cat furniture drew more attention after they were included in an April list of thank-you gifts that people can receive in exchange for donations made to the city government under Japan’s “hometown tax” system, officials said.

One of the promotional videos has been viewed more than 500,000 times.

The woodwork festival prompted five other manufacturers to enter the cat furniture market. Their available items range between 120,000 yen and 278,000 yen in unit price.

“We are so busy and short-handed because we receive inquiries from overseas,” said a city government official with the interior goods division.

The Okawa city government is preparing a “Neko Kagu Expo!” (Cat furniture expo!) on Nov. 11-12 in Tokyo’s posh Daikanyama district.

CAT HOUSES, HANDBASKETS

The “Neko Chigura,” a product of the village of Sekikawa, Niigata Prefecture, is an igloo-shaped cat house woven from the straw of Koshihikari rice.

The word “chigura” means a cradle for nursing a baby, according to officials of the Sekikawa Village Neko Chigura association, producer of the straw work. “Neko” is Japanese for cat.

Straw retains heat, so the structure is well-adapted for cats, which enjoy cramped and warm nooks, the officials added.

Each handmade Neko Chigura takes about a week to complete. A product sized for a single cat is available for 23,000 yen.

The Neko Chigura, a familiar commodity item in Sekikawa since around the Taisho Era (1912-1926), was commercially produced in 1980 in hopes of revitalizing the local community.

Many orders have been placed for the Neko Chigura over the past four or five years, partly because word has spread online about its excellence in design.

The waiting time for delivery ranges from three months to slightly short of a year, the officials said.

Taketora (https://www.taketora.co.jp/), a bamboo products shop in Susaki, Kochi Prefecture, is marketing what it calls the “Neko Tesage-kago” (cat handbasket).

The product is woven from “torafu-dake” (tiger-spotted bamboo), which grows only in limited areas. Designed in a roundish shape, it provides a perfect fit for a cat’s body.

The shop, founded in 1894, came up with the name after a cat-loving worker made a handbasket and put a cat inside.

The handbasket is available for about 40,000 yen.

“I hope the product will give cat lovers an opportunity to learn about the allure of bamboo ware,” said Yoshihiro Yamagishi, the 55-year-old Taketora president.

(This article was compiled from reports by Ryuta Kuratomi and Daisuke Ono.)