Explorations in Japanese Culture
In the early 1980s photographer Satoru Tsuda produced a series of photographs which he entitled Namennayo! （なめんなよ！）Cats. This literally translates to “Don’t Lick Me!,” but is meant to be taken as something like “I am not going to take any crap!” The cats were photographed in all forms of rebellion, from a kitten student sneaking off from class to smoke in the bathroom to a yakuza gangster meowing as they are arrested.
Satoru Tsuda found the four original cats as kittens abandoned at his local dry cleaners. He took care of them and eventually became very close to the furry felines. The idea for dressing them up came to Tsuda after his girlfriend left doll clothes in his apartment. He quickly realized that the doll clothes were the same size as the kittens and the magic started.
Tsuda began to produce more and more of the Namennayo! images and with the help of his assistants Namennayo! collectibles were being sold in nearly one hundred thousand retail outlets around Japan. Consumers could take the rebellious kittens home in any form they wanted with merchandise that included ashtrays, key holders, combs, post cards, stationary sets and even the essential punk accessory, the lighter.
During the time of the kitten’s popularity, Japan’s media was full of reports about gangs raising hell in the streets on bikes or in schools. The kittens became a satire of the gangs and acted as a way to turn the scary images of bikers into cool and affordable images.
Capturing the Essence of Rebellion
Photographing the kittens is no easy task, requiring up to eight people to make the photo shoot work. Dressing the kittens is handled by two to three people, one person photographs, one person is in charge of the set and the last person is in charge of getting the kittens to look at the camera. Photo shoots can only last about ten minutes before the cats will either become bored and wander off or want to play with and destroy the set. Individual cats are only part of a shoot once every three days to avoid stress. With all this hard work, Tsuda has said that a “good shoot” usually only produces one or two good photos.
While the cats may look like they are standing, they are actually sitting in their costumes. The illusion is achieved by photographing them from the front.
Nothing Can Last Forever
The cats popularity did not last forever, as the joke began to wear thin they began to disappear from store shelves. Today Namennayo! kittens can be found in flea market stalls and old junk shops for a few hundred yen. However, their creator, Satoru Tsuda, still maintains a website for the cuddly rebels with regular updates!