K is for Kyoto


Illustration by Lily Morgan

You may have gathered that every so often, I’m partial to a bit of philosophy. What could be nicer, on a dreary afternoon, than a nice thick smoothie of Schopenhauer or Kant? Except a bowl of gizzards perhaps. So I’m delighted today to introduce The Cats of Tetsugaku-no-michi, Ingrid Jendzrejewski‘s story in the Cat Tales anthology.

You are on the path between Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji known as Tetsugaku-no-michi, the Philosopher’s Walk. It is relatively quiet; hanami is coming to a close, and the fallen sakura blossoms now look less like magical confetti and more like a carpet of muddy sludge. Still, it is a beautiful day, the water in the canal is burbling merrily, and you are surrounded by the pleasant smell of springtime.

There are temples and shrines everywhere. Otoyo, Honen-in, Eikando. You don’t have long in Kyoto so you know you shouldn’t be wasting a moment, but instead of touring shrines or photographing the Jizo rocks in their friendly red aprons, you’re watching cats.

Cats of all things. Normal, everyday cats. Cats that look just like the cats you can see anywhere in the world, in your own country, traipsing through your back yard. Lots of cats. Tens at least, maybe a hundred. Grey cats, white cats, tortoiseshells, tabbies. They look like normal housecats, but they’re sprawled out along the banks of the canal, inscrutable looks on their faces. And you aren’t just watching these cats, you’re staring. The cats, for their part, are studiously avoiding your gaze.

It’s the tabbies that stopped you in your tracks: two of them nestled together on an old cart, one licking its paw, the other twitching its ears as it pretends to sleep. Once you saw them, you couldn’t move: everything about them is familiar, from the nicks on their ears to the way they flick their tails when they’re pretending not to notice you.

You watch them, shift your weight, watch them some more, and as you watch, you can feel the rawness of that first childhood loss creep its way through your body—a sadness you hadn’t realised could travel across oceans.

Isn’t that beautiful? This was the winning story in the Book a Break short story competition, and Atthys, the judge, had this to say: Yeah, the title is a mouthful, but there’s nothing overwritten about this story. The language is fresh and bright and polished. There is an eager energy to the story but at the same time, a poised, elegiac sadness. I loved the way both the past and future are telescoped down, as if the protagonist’s whole life’s story hinges on the simple, ephemeral events of this one day (and again, here, the writing of the kids was wonderful.) Drawn in deceptively simple lines, the story is precise, elegant and lovely. A fine accomplishment.

I couldn’t have put it better myself, so I won’t try. Ingrid, incidentally, was the judge of this year’s competition. Curtis tells me she did a magnificent job. 121 entries – phew! The anthology should be a smasher, he says. The theme was a journey, so if you like a bit of armchair travel, there’ll be all sorts of amazing destinations to visit, from Poland to Pluto, with detours deep into minds and relationships and intrigue.

Personally, I’m planning to go to Kyoto myself to chat about Sir Thomas More’s great opus with the cats on the Philosopher’s Walk. I’m stymied, though: if I’m to hold my end up, I obviously need to visit Utopia beforehand, but it doesn’t seem an easy place to get to. No direct flights that I can see – indeed, no flights at all. Could it be that haven’t built an airport? Is it only accessible by boat? I’m really not sure I can do that. Call me a pussy, but every time I think of it, my fear of drowning gets the better of me.

But please don’t let that bother you. I suggest, on the contrary, you relax with a cup of tea and Cat Tales, where you’ll be able to savour Ingrid’s writing as you stroll along the Philosopher’s Walk, marvelling at the cats. And don’t forget that in so doing, you’ll also be making the world a better place. Thank you!

The proceeds from Cat Tales go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. So please don’t hesitate to spread the word (reblog, twitter, faceboook, sandwich board, Times Square illumination – all and any means are welcome) and help us raise all we can. 

In a special promotion deal, the price of Cat Tales is just $1.99 for the whole month of April. Available as a PDF (or epub / mobi) complete with colour illustrations directly from this site* by clicking the button below. Also available in print (black & white, $9.50).

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*You can buy from Amazon here, but buying from this site results in $1.61 after the PayPal commission, as opposed to just $0.70 from Amazon. An insecticide treated mosquito net, which protects on average 2 people for 3 to 4 years, costs $2.50. PLUS, if you buy from this site, you’ll get a personal message of thanks from Curtis along with a short story of his own (in which Nibbles the cat, I’m sorry to say, comes to a rather unfortunate end).

Posted in Book a Break anthology, Short story competition and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Perhaps only a flight of fancy can take you to Utopia, Smith. The advantage is that you don’t need a ticket. The arguable disadvantage is that you’ll have to travel alone.

  2. That is some top-quality writing. I can see how Ms. Jendzrejewski‘s story was selected, although I’m sure the competition made the choice difficult nonetheless. And the artist, Ms. Morgan, is quite talented, too!

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