Guest blog post written for us by the author CJ Fentiman, whose memoir about living with rescue cats in Japan is available now 😻
When I was growing up, I always found solace with the animals in my family, especially the cats! They put me at ease during my troubled youth and made me feel less lonely. After leaving home, I spent years without any furry friends due to restrictions that came with living in shared accommodation, and this made me feel less grounded as I couldn’t draw comfort from a fluffy belly or some soothing purrs.
I was bereft of feline companionship until an opportunity to teach in Japan presented itself. As if the appeal of living in the Japanese Alps were not enticing enough, anyone who took this job would move into an apartment that was already home to two kawaii kitties! These cats had been rescued by a couple of teachers who’d lived in the flat previously, so taking care of them was part of the package, and something I considered to be an irresistible bonus. I was excited to immerse myself in a new way of life and knew that having a pair of cats to come home to would sweeten the experience.
The names of my feline flatmates were Iko and Niko, and I ended up taking in three more cats during my time in Japan! The first of these was Gershwin, a silver tabby whom I found living on the streets near a temple. Then came Takashi and Nyan-Chan; every time the Universe showed me a cat in need, I was compelled to try to help them. After having spent my younger years taking refuge with cats, this seemed like the least I could do. I was able to save them from the perils they faced as strays, and they returned the favour by guiding me on a journey of self-discovery and growth.
What follows is a list of the top five things that living with rescue cats taught me. Although all of the cats I’ve cared for are immensely special to me, Gershwin has been my greatest teacher as he and I developed a uniquely close bond. When the time came for my partner and I to leave Japan, I knew that we could never part with him. We found loving homes for the four other cats and arranged for Gershwin to travel with us. That’s how my green-eyed boy became the cat with three passports!
Here are the top five life lessons bestowed upon me by Gershwin and his adoptive siblings:
1. Home Is Where Your Cat Is
It wasn’t until I found myself in a new country with an unfamiliar culture that I realised international travel could be so lonely. It takes time to make friends and to build a solid community around you. Having cats at home whilst living abroad can make those homesick moments more manageable. Being greeted at the door with purrs and nuzzles can be the perfect antidote to feeling isolated.
After living in Japan, I relocated to Australia. The stress of organising a big move was quite overwhelming, but knowing that I'd have Gershwin curled up next to me once we reached our destination made me feel more able to cope. It doesn’t matter where in the world I live, as long as my cats are with me, it will always feel like home.
2. Be More Pawsitive
Gershwin taught me to focus on the good things in life - the beauty in nature and the appreciation of good food in good company! Watching him grow from being a scared stray into a confident, rambunctious adventurer taught me to accept that challenges are simply a part of life, and their presence is temporary.
It was in Japan with my cats that I learned to feel more gratitude for the things I had, rather than fixating on what I thought I lacked. I spent my time with more positive people, who taught me to appreciate that each instant in time is a unique moment that will never happen again. So, we should endeavour to make the most of it. Ichigo ichie!
3. Stop CATastrophising!
In the past, I was in the habit of assuming the worst. I’d taught myself to prepare for failure and disappointment. If I had a job interview, I felt certain that I'd be unsuccessful before attending; or if I put my trust in someone, I was convinced they’d let me down eventually. But constantly exaggerating the difficulties that lay ahead of me and anticipating the worst in every situation was no way to live.
With Gershwin around, I was trying to become more Zen each day. My silver companion had shown me how to slow down, be more present, and not to worry too much about what others think! By taking him for short walks in the countryside, I was able to reconnect with nature. I was sleeping more, writing in my spare time for pleasure, and most importantly, I’d stopped catastrophising.
4. Find Your Purrpose, Find Your Ikigai
For years I had listened to what other people thought I should be doing, prioritising their ideas above my own. Instead of listening to myself, I looked outward for direction in my career. Living with rescue cats helped me to slow down and be more introspective. I found that I enjoyed writing about their purrsonalities, and this renewed my passion for writing, leading me to compile my mewsings into two popular books!
If someone had told me that I could make a career out of doing what I love, I’d never have believed them. The lessons I learned from Gershwin and my time in Japan have shown me that favouring compromise over following your dreams isn't always necessary and often leads to misery. Why do yourself a disservice? With confidence and diligence, you can find your ikigai!
5. Remember to Paws
Whenever I watch my cats with their tiny paws stretched out in the sunshine, I am reminded to take a moment and tend to my own needs. In today’s hectic world where there’s an ever-growing need to stay switched-on, ticking things off our expanding checklists in the pursuit of success, taking a little downtime can be vital.
Gershwin has always been king (or emperor) at taking things in his stride (except if it involves prawns). Watching cats laze around, free of guilt, should prompt us to stop overdoing things and make time for what makes us happy. Whether that’s reading a book in the sunshine, doing yoga, or going for an afternoon stroll, I have learned that making “me time” a priority in my daily schedule is essential to having a more fulfilled life.
The Japanese have a saying: "A cat that’s always mewing doesn’t catch mice". As I settled in to my life in Japan and drew strength from my cats, I realised that it was time for me to stop mewing and catch a little happiness!
About CJ Fentiman
CJ is the internationally recognised author behind the 5th edition guidebook and blog, ‘Travelling with Pets’. Her work has been featured extensively across Australia, on SBS radio, in The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, Australian Dogs & Pets, Dogs Life, and closer to home in Cat World UK. She's also the in-house pet travel expert for PetsForever app, and her latest book is soon to be featured in The Reader’s Digest.