It started as a distant echo. I paused my movie, straining my ears. Chanting and drums. I shrugged it off—just another Japanese festival that I wouldn’t understand.
But the sound drew closer. The drums were beating their way towards me, until the sound filled my apartment.
I stepped onto my balcony and spied red lanterns. A procession of men carried a palanquin on their shoulders—for what purpose I did not know. I was mesmerised. An outsider in location, race and language, I was drawn in by the hypnotic drums, steps and voices of those people.
In the morning it felt like a dream.
I found the most innocuous shrine in Takarazuka. On the corner of a normal road, across from a shopping centre it sat—small, wooden, traditional and somehow both alien and familiar to its surroundings.
A wild cat sat within the shrine, smiling peacefully.
The temple and its grounds were stunning in the most sirene way, as if crossing the threshold closed off the outside world.
But the element that really struck me was the number of cats. Stray cats are common in Japan, but usually they’ve learnt to be afraid of humans.
The temple cats were completely at ease. They floated and lazed about the temple grounds like protective spirits, soaking in the lustrous shade without a care in the world.
An old man laid out some food for them, but once they had eaten their fill they dispersed to stretch in the sun, climb onto shrines, scratch their claws on old wooden fences or chew some grass.
I sat on a bench watching them. A cat curled up beside me, though not touching, as if it only wished to keep me company while I day dreamed.