OKAYAMA (Japan) • A feline "lord" of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi, Okayama prefecture, is contributing to a recovery in tourism that was dealt a heavy hit from natural disasters last summer.
The name of the "cat lord" of the popular castle, which is nicknamed "castle in the sky", is Sanjuro. He settled in the precincts of the castle in the wake of torrential rains in western Japan in July last year.
Because Sanjuro is super friendly to people, he has attracted attention on social media.
The number of tourists coming to the castle, which fell at one point after the torrential rains, recovered rapidly thanks to him. He now serves as a living "beckoning cat", the auspicious cat statue often displayed in stores and other businesses.
The Takahashi City Tourist Association is upbeat, with an official saying: "We want to liven up the whole city with Sanjuro."
Sanjuro is a male with white and brown fur. He is thought to be three or four years old.
On July 21 last year, Mr Ryoichi Motohara, a castle janitor, found him wandering in the castle.
"At the time, I thought he was abandoned because he was very skinny," Mr Motohara recalled.
After observing the cat for several days, the janitor started feeding him. From then, he began appearing in the castle's main area, mingling with tourists.
Sanjuro never gets angry when people touch him. He responds with cute manners while purring. He has become widely known through word of mouth and via online sites.
The tourist association gave the cat the name Sanjuro in tribute to Tani Sanjuro, a samurai warrior of the Bitchu Matsuyama clan who served as a troop captain of Shinsengumi, a samurai squad in the last years of the Edo period (1603 to 1867).
As the number of newspaper articles and television programmes reporting about Sanjuro grew, his owner was identified around October last year.
Ms Megumi Nanba, 40, who lives in the city about 6km from the castle, said she had been searching for her cat, which ran away from home on July 14.
As Ms Nanba loves her cat and he was attached to her children, she wanted to take him home at first.
Eventually, though, she and her family members discussed the matter and decided to hand their cat over to the tourist association, with Ms Nanba saying: "I was really relieved when I found out he is alive. If he likes living in the castle, it is good for him (to stay there)."
In December, the association officially appointed Sanjuro to the post of "castle lord cat".
His duty as castle lord is to stroll around the castle twice a day, with officials holding him on a leash.
Sanjuro is highly popular for his friendliness towards visitors.
According to the tourist association, the number of visitors in July last year in the wake of the torrential rains fell to about 20 per cent of the figure in the previous year.
But in February this year, the number passed 4,000 - 40 per cent higher than the figure in the previous year.
The association designated March 16 as the "Day of Sanjuro" as a play on Japanese numbers - san (three), ju (10) and roku (six) - and held an event. Tourists from across Japan swarmed to take photos of Sanjuro that day.
The association also produces official items with his photo, such as key chains and postcards, as well as digital stamps which can be used on Line, a communication app.
YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK