Ome: The retro town of classic movie billboards and cats (part 2)
This is Part Two of the article about the city of Ome. Click here to read Part One.
In the central area of Ome, in the past, movie-related billboards were even more widespread, but in September of 2018, the same year when Kubo Bankan died, the typhoon No. 24 has damaged and blown off several billboards around the city. This prompted city officials to reduce the number of billboards that were on display. As an alternative, this led to a new type of town revitalization — the cats. But this doesn’t mean there are a lot of cats here roaming the streets. Instead, there are many cat objects, statues and illustrations in all shapes and forms to be found along the roads, in front of the buildings, in back alleys and hidden spots.
But why exactly cats? According to Kazuo Mizumura, the secretary general of the city’s tourism association, Ome as a city has valued cats for a long time. In the Edo period, the city was well known for production of “Ome stripes”, a woven fabric made of silk and cotton. They distributed the fabric as far away as Kyoto and Osaka. Cats exterminate rats that eat cocoons that are used in the production of silk. As such, they are said to have been a symbol of business prosperity.
Many shops owners and other people who live in Ome feel that cats fit well into the atmosphere and the scenery of the city. About 80 local stores got together and formed the “Ome Nekomachi Club” (Ome Cat Town Club) under the slogan “one store, one cat” where every store, cafe or a restaurant put up at least one product related to cats. And so the concept of “Nishinonekocho” (in English “West Cat Town”) was born, bringing events such as cat goods market and town walks to the city.
One store owner also pointed out that the vintage atmosphere of the city reminds him of Sakutaro Hagiwara’s novel called “Nekomachi” (Cat Town). In that story, the protagonist gets off the train at a station, wanders down a mountain path and ends up in a “busy and beautiful” city. In this mysterious city with no noise, he suddenly encounters a large group of cats.
In a sense, walking around the streets of Ome makes you feel like you are the main character from Nekomachi.
You can find many cat-themed billboards that are parodies on famous movies.
You might have noticed the word “nyan” in some of the posters. “Nyan” is the Japanese version of the cats’ “meow” sound.
Many of the billboards are works by Mao Yamaguchi, a popular picture book artist famous for her cat illustrations.
Off the main street, close to the Ome Station, look carefully at the ground and you will notice some mysterious cat paw prints.
Follow them and you will arrive to…
…Nyanya Magari! It’s a hidden little alley with cat objects of all kinds.
In Ome, it seems like the cat is a sacred animal. Strangely though, I have not seen a single real cat while walking around the streets. Maybe there is a plot twist here, and at some point in time, all the real cats have actually turned into these pictures and statues!
In this unique town, it seems like anything is possible.