The Calvin Pelorian Cat Project


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Jump to : History - Namennayo Cats - Topp's Cards

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Peloria : A botanical term, meaning regularity or symmetry of structure occurring abnormally in flowers normally irregular or unsymmetrical. That is, it's normality in something that's supposed to be weird. So the phrase "Don't Pelorian" would mean don't be normal when you're supposed to be abnormal. What does this mean to the Japanese ? It means they take cats and dress them up in psychotically-detailed little costumes and sets and take pictures of them. Called Unlickable Nameneko (or the slangy Namennayo -- "Don't Lick Me !"), it was all the rage in Japan in the early 80's, so it's time for it to become big in North America !

I first heard about them from Bizarre Magazine. They had a lovely 2-page spread in their May 2002 issue. When I showed it to a friend, he told me that as a kid, he had a poster of a group of cats in a rock band, but we have been unable to determine how much impact the craze had here. Internet searches have met with limited success, perhaps because all the best pages are in Japanese. Further investigation was required ...

History - Satoru Tsuda

Spring, 1980. A young Japanese man by the name of Satoru Tsuda finds an abandoned kitten at the dry cleaners next door to his home in Nagoya and takes it in, even though he doesn't like cats. He names it "Matakichi", after the dry cleaners. One day, as the kitten is playing with some doll's clothes in the house, Tsuda notices that they are the same size ...

The next year, a poster of Matakichi appears, dressed up like a "Tsuppari", or Japanese delinquent, in an unbuttoned school uniform with rolled-up sleeves, white t-shirt and belt. His motorcycle antenna banner doesn't display the Rising Sun but a Rising Cat, with the phrase "All Japan Fast Feline Federation -- You Won't Lick Us !" The craze takes off instantly.

Starting from Kyoto, the mecca of cool in Japan, posters and cards of the cats spread to just about every home and office in the country. The "Kitten Without A Cause" image captures the imagination of the Japanese people, who live in a somewhat polite and perhaps repressed society. About 500 different items are produced, including books, watches and panties (I want some ! And yes, I would wear them ...), and over 8 million posters and 12 million drivers license cards are sold, much to the chagrin of the police who asked that the "deceptive contents" be changed. Pundits and professors analyzed the fad, while the Prime Minister's Office adopted a cat character mascot. Speculation about how they got the cats to stand upright drew debate and protests from animal rights groups. Then, not even six months later, the fad died out as quickly as it started, but not before making Tsuda a wealthy man.

I had been trying to get my hands on the book Rock 'N Roll Cats - Felines With Attitude (published in 2001), but was unable to order it through local Japanese book stores. My sister told me she has a friend in Japan, so I gave her the Amazon Japan link (now defunct) and asked her to ask him to try to get it. He was unsuccessful, but another friend suggested just ordering it over the internet. Simple, if you know Japanese. So she learned enough Japanese on the fly to fill out the order form and got me the book in time for my birthday ! Wow, thanks, Rena ! The above pictures are from the book, as well as the information for the history.

Namennayo Cats

I don't know how many Pelorian Cat books were published or which was first, but this one seems to fit. "Namennayo Cats" was first printed in 1981 in Japan, followed by English translations later that year. (First printing : Dec. 8. Fourth printing : Dec. 25 !) I finally got ahold of a copy and I cannot fully convey how magnificent it is. It is over 40 pages long, measuring 8"x10". It is full-colour, with the most amazing collection of photos of cats dressed up as motorcycle riders and cops, school children and teachers, surfers, beatniks, and in modern and traditional Japanese clothes. It follows the rather loose story of Matakichi showing you photos from his life, "Here's a photo-story album of my adventurous youth. I'll let you peek through it." There are pictures of his childhood in a small village, his school days when he got in lots of trouble with the teacher, flirting with girl cats, hanging out at the catnip coffee shop, his days as a juvenile delinquent with a motorcycle gang and his problems with the police, his rock band, and finally at age 36 with a baby of his own. "My days of youth have gone and now I'm a gentle soul." The scenes are fantastically detailed and made even more bizarre by the addition of oddly-translated English phrases which were probably odd Japanese phrases to begin with. Betty : "That Chips ... he kept touching my tail." Matakichi : "That meat-ball ... I'll get even with him someday !" Mr. Chips : "Oh well, youth beats money ..." I've got a few pictures from the book here, but I can't show you some of the best ones because I'm simply not willing to crack the spine of the book in order to scan them properly. "Call you sir ? Did you call me punk ? CALL ME BY MY ENGLISH NAME ... MR. GAPONE !"

Uh, "Likes : transvestism" ??? "Say you like it ! Or else ..."

The Topps Cards

Here are some samples from the Topps set of 55 trading cards that was released in North America in 1983. They were called "Perlorian Cats", a peculiar misspelling -- since there is no such word and the correct origin is so easy to figure out -- that may have occurred due to the Japanese inability to properly pronounce the letter "L".

Suzanne Green

I have not been able to find much information about Suzanne Green. As far as I can figure, she merely got permission to use Satoru Tsuda's Pelorian (well, Perlorian) Cat photos in her line of children's books and added her own text to create simple stories. I only know of four : The Birthday Book, Busy Day, Perlorian Seasons and Going To School, all from 1987. Buy them if you can find them, they're great, as you can see from the sample pictures below.

Cat High - Terry deRoy Gruber

All this Pelorian nonsense that I foist on all my friends has paid off ! Robin Bougie and Rebecca Dart have remembered a fantastic thrift store find from years ago -- Cat High : The Yearbook ! Published in 1984, it looks like a really disturbing Pelorian-imitator (the originals aren't disturbing enough ?) though the creator, Terry deRoy Gruber, has two previous books of (normal) cat photography. Cat High is set up and laid out like a highschool yearbook with humorous write-ups and photos of cat students and teachers, school clubs, activities and other, uh, memories. However, instead of twisting and forcing the cat's bodies into the clothes like you're supposed to, the book has the cat's heads with fake bodies. (I hope ...) The effect is somewhat creepy. Creepier. Just click below to see what I mean. Buy one if you can find it ...

Harry Whittier Frees

"When I was a child, we had a picture/story book about dressed up cats. Their names were Buzz, Fuzz, something, and Agamemnon. Must have been published in the 1930s/40s because it belonged to my dad when he was a little boy." - Jan

The third cat's name was Suzz ... An internet search turned up the name Harry Whittier Frees. (Hey, personal webpages blathering on about childhood memories actually are good for something ... !) He was a dressed-up animal photographer who pre-dated the Pelorian phenomenon by 60 years ! I don't know which country he lived in, though I'm guessing the U.S. because that's where he was published. The earliest work that I've been able to find any information on is The Animal Mother Goose from 1921 (near the bottom of the page), and the latest is The Little Kittens' Nursery Rhymes from 1941. I don't know how many books he published in total.

Fortunately, some of his work is still available in the form of reprints by the B. Shackman company. I was able to obtain four books for a reasonable price from ebay : Four Little Kittens, Four Little Puppies, Four Little Bunnies and Toodles And Her Friends. The first book is the one from Jan's (and her dad's) childhood. The puppies were named Wags, Tags, Rags and Obadiah, while the bunnies were named Fluff, Puff, Muff and Algernon. (I'd say those were weird names, but my cousin-in-law wants to name their first child Moby ...) The pictures are all in black and white, with odd accompanying stories that seem to have been written to accommodate the various pictures. The clothes and background props may not be quite as well-made or detailed as in Satoru Tsuda's photographs, but Frees gets undeniable credit for being first.

The Toodles book is ominously "Dedicated to all the little kittens, puppies, and bunnies who posed for the pictures in this book". However, a note says, "These unusual photographs of real kittens, puppies, and bunnies were made possible only by patient unfailing kindness on the part of the photographer at all times." Good to know, because some of these photos look somewhat uncomfortable ... Click the pictures for larger versions :

It's still not enough ...

"Note to Grown-ups : The 'Perlorian Cats' that you see here are very special animals photographed by a very caring group of photographers led by Satoru Tsuda. The cats are specially chosen for their expressive faces and comfort with the photography sessions. These photographs are taken at incredibly high shutter speeds to capture a pose and an expression without any discomfort to the cat or cats involved. No artificial substances are used -- just love and patience ! And the cats seem to respond beautifully to the attention and caring that surround them. Needless to say, no one should try to do this with cats or kittens on their own. Professional training and proper circumstances should always be involved when working with animals. Your family cat will not welcome treatment it is not used to. Cats are very independent animals !" - disclaimer from the book Busy Day - Cats You're Going To Love ! I have chosen to ignore this warning ...

The Calvin Pelorian Cat Project

Here is a picture / Flash animation of my cat Calvin in a birthday card I made for my sister, so you can get some idea of what I had to deal with. (Get Flash, if you need it.) Essentially, Calvin is the grumpiest, meanest, noisiest cat in the world. He sulks, he is demanding, he fights with all the neighbour cats and not a day goes by without him biting me or swiping at my feet. He deserved this.

Now, when I say that, I don't mean to say that I did this as a form of torture or torment. I did this for my own amusement. He gets fed, he is cared for, he pretty much has the run of the house -- so occasionally I decide it is time for him to earn his keep. Usually this takes the form of a hug while he is trying to sleep, but this time was a little more involved.

Please note : Calvin was not harmed during this project. I love him very much and would never hurt him physically. However, emotionally, we're both wrecks, so what the hell.

Click the individual pictures below to jump anywhere in the sequence, though I recommend starting from the beginning and following them in order :

Afterword : The most talkative cat in the world didn't say one word during the photo session. The only time he bit me was when I flipped him over on his back in my lap to attach the Velcro on the front. When we were finished, he became extremely affectionate. (To avoid further "punishment" ? I don't know.) There will be no more photos. However, I will be keeping the shirt. More or less to wave in front of his face the next time he misbehaves ...

I don't recommend that you do this yourself, but if you do, please send me your pictures !

Or just let me know what you think -- Click here for e-mail instructions !


"Hi -- Just saw your cat project site and have to tell you it made me laugh harder than I have in a long time. I used to have a cat (Nooney, who died at 18 two years ago) that I always threatened to put in a dolly dress just to bring her down a peg or two. Your project made me wish I had ! Thanks for the laughs, Stephanie."

From "jen", on the boingboing discussion board : "oh my god, the pelorian cats ! in 1983 i had the cats dressed up like rockstars poster and then my sister convinced me that the cats were probably dead, so i cried and threw it away. damn her !"

"When I was a child, we had a picture/story book about dressed up cats. Their names were Buzz, Fuzz, something, and Agamemnon. Must have been published in the 1930s/40s because it belonged to my dad when he was a little boy." - Jan

"Hey there! my friend just gave me a link to your 'The Calvin Pelorian Cat Project' page. i nearly died!!! when i was in primary school our library had 3 copies of this book (it was VERY VERY popular - 3 copies and it always had about 20 people on the reserve list - i was a library monitor ^-^) that had these pictures of cats dressed up in clothing. i thought some of the text with it was in english but i could be wrong - it has been 14 years now ^-^ - but i loved it - i used to get to look through it every time it was returned before someone else took it out and i got to borrow it a couple of times myself - sometime in high school i got a copy of the poster of the two cats smoking in the toilet - i remember in the book they are gonna get caught by the school principal or something and have to climb out the window. anyways - i was so pleased to find your site! no one i know these days apart from my sister even knows what i am talking about. it makes me wonder what my school librarian was thinking too - though she was pretty cool. anyways - i just thought i would email you. i am very impressed....i just wish i knew the name of the book that was at my school...but now i know a bit more thanks to your site so i guess i could start searching - thanks! ^-^ ~rebecca"

"Hi - I had a book called Namennayo some time ago which I stupidly gave away to some friends in vermont. I bought it in the eighties in Melbourne Australia, where I now live but have not found another copy anywhere. It is an amazing book, and I just noticed that they hold a copy at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. It is by the Satoru guy that you mention on your website. You can look up the book at the NLA website - I wish I could get a copy of that again - have you ever seen it? I think I will search the globe endlessly for that book and never find it. Anthony"

"You might also be interested to know that Bill Griffith who does the Zippy cartoon -- you know the pinhead character ? -- actually quoted some sayings from this Namennayo book in his collection 'Are We Having Fun Yet ?' ... Most of my friends thought that the cats were either dead or drugged. Do you think the cats were drugged ? I don't think so but then they must have had some kind of brace holding them in place. I showed the book to a Japanese friend of mine in Melbourne who was a sushi chef. He didn't speak much english, and when I asked him what he thought of the photographs, or whether he considered them strange, he just said 'yes, very pretty' ..." - Anthony again.

"Hi Brad, This is just to say, your pelorian cat project is really, really wonderful. I believe i can relate to your guilt-inflected description of the process of trying to get your cat Calvin to participate in such activities. I am presently offering my most recent cat suit creation for sale on eBay (Australia) and thought you might like to take a look. Yours, Laura"

"Hi Brad, I would consider it an honour for Baz's picture to go on your page. How sad that people don't send you their pictures. I think there's probably lots of closet cat dressers out there. If for no other reason than that my auction has had more than two hundred people look at it -- over two days -- but no bids ... yet. Cheers, Laura"

"I'm a huge Harry Whittier Frees fan. I actually have one of his original books from the early 1900s. I did my own cat dressing experiments. Attached are a few photos. The subjects were my two cats Chelsea and Shade. Larissa Dalle"

So I'm at Reg's (the movie director I'm working with) and his girlfriend Cindy's house and I'm playing with her cat, Chaka. Reg asks me if I have a cat. Thinking he must have seen this website, I remind him, "Yeah. I dressed him up in clothes." He jumps up. "Oh, we do that." He grabs the cat and disappears into the bedroom. He emerges a few seconds later with the cat dressed in a blue sweater that Cindy had crocheted for him. Ooh, hardcore.

Here are five photos out of the two dozen I had to take because Cindy insisted, "But I want him to look good ..." The red sweater is one of two dog sweaters she had bought. Cindy refused to tape Chaka to any boxes, so he's in a non-Pelorian (i.e. regular cat) position. She also showed me Chaka's $70 tooth spray and the carrying pack for when they took him ice-skating. I wasn't sure if the queasy feeling in my stomach was me falling in love or fear ...

Links - Satoru Tsuda's official website ! Check out Scratch Cat ! - driver's license and Japanese dress - a few more pics - Tsuppari pics - some products - animated GIF - small pics - picture of handheld video game - two pics I haven't seen elsewhere

Well, of course there's a Pelorian Cat Theme Song ! I think it's only in Japanese, released in 1981. It's called "Namennayo", and is sung by "Matakichi & Namennayo". Please, please, somebody find this somewhere and send me a copy ! Any format ! Mp3, 45, 9th generation cassette copy, anything !

Jump to : History - Namennayo Cats - Topp's Cards

Suzanne Green - Cat High - Harry Whittier Frees

Calvin - Letters - Links

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