A fuzzy tale of Japan’s famous cats in hats

by May Masangkay

Staff Writer

When Ryo Yamazaki picked up a chunk of one of his cat’s shed fur and fashioned it on top of his Scottish fold’s head in a Trump-esque quiff, he did it for a laugh.

Little did he know that the photo he took and posted online would became part of an online trend and inspire him and his wife, Hiromi, to make a series of caps for all three of the couple’s Scottish Folds. Two years later, and the Yamazakis have since produced more than 100 hats out of their cats’ own fur.

“It all started when Donald Trump was running for office as U.S. president and the hashtag ‘TrumpYourCat’ was trending in the U.S.,” Ryo says, referring to the viral craze of posting photos of cats sporting hairstyles mimicking Trump’s distinctive quiff. “I thought I might as well give it a go.”

‘Purrfect’ modeling: Ryo and Hiromi Yamazaki with Nyaa wearing a shoebill-shaped cap made from his molted fur. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

The couple’s youngest cat, a brown Scottish fold named Mugi, was the ideal Trump candidate. Yamazaki took a photo and posted it to the couple’s Instagram account.

Mugi’s siblings — Nyaa, a gray tabby, and Maru, a snow-white cat, have also become internet stars by wearing caps recycled from their own fur, the color of which affects the Yamazakis’ design decisions. Ryo says Nyaa looks great with a cap shaped like koala bear ears, while one of Hiromi’s favorites is a pair of rabbit ears made for Maru.

Finding shed hair around the home may be a nuisance for most pet owners, but to the Yamazakis it’s like finding treasure, or a keepsake for when their beloved cats pass away.

“They’re family,” says Hiromi. “Our cats are like our children. We live as if we are living with three boys.”

For the cat cap project, the two work as a team from their house in Tokyo’s Tama district. Ryo is the “ideas man” — his preference leaning toward the humorous or architectural — and he is responsible for taking and uploading photographs of the cats in their creations. Hiromi, meanwhile, does the handiwork, designing and creating the pieces. Their works range from the familiar, such as top hats, acorn caps and berets, to the wacky, including a sushi hat, one looks like a shoebill and another fashioned after Princess Leia’s side buns.

Scottish Fold Mugi, here wearing a cat-ear hat, first brought attention to the Yamazakis
Scottish Fold Mugi, here wearing a cat-ear hat, first brought attention to the Yamazakis’ Instagram account when he wore a clump of hair that looked like U.S. President Donald Trump’s hairdo. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

The two have created so many hats that they were able to publish a photo book in 2017, for which Nyaa, Maru and Mugi also donned caps that looked like Tokyo Skytree, cakes, and Christmas and New Year’s decorations.

Ryo recalls how one day, he put hats on all three cats as they were gazing out the window into the morning sunshine. The cats were perfectly fine with him placing three mountain-shaped cones on their heads.

“I photographed them from behind. It was so beautiful,” he remembers, noting how that experience inspired him to go on and create more.

The Yamazakis have been lucky, their cats love being brushed, so obtaining hair isn’t a problem, and they emphasize that all three are cooperative and seem to like wearing hats, making them “purrfect” for their modeling careers.

The Yamazakis’ Instagram account, @rojiman, currently has more than 89,000 followers to please. But keeping up with new ideas and making the hats are no easy tasks. Even the simplest cap, Hiromi says, can take half an hour. The more elaborate ones, such as one shaped like a panda head, takes around two hours.

It requires a lot of perseverance, Hiromi says when describing the difficulty of manipulating the hair, which is very light and fragile. When she first started making the items, she explains, she had no manual or set of instructions, so she had to learn things on her own and experiment.

Nyaa sports a hairy top hat made from his own shed hair.
Nyaa sports a hairy top hat made from his own shed hair. | SATOKO KAWASAKI

The basics are as follows: First, create a small ball from a clump of loosened hair, and then add smaller tufts to it, bit by bit, rolling it in between, until it becomes the size you want. Using your fingers, spread out the ball and make and indent the cap to fit the cat’s head. Hiromi says she uses only her hands, so no adhesive or needling is involved.

To make one hat, cat owners will need about a ramen bowl full of hair. Maru, say the Yamazakis, is the biggest producer, followed by Mugi and Nyaa, the eldest of the trio.

During the peak molting seasons — spring and autumn — the couple say they become busy brushing and collecting as much hair as possible. “It’s harvest time, we say,” Ryo says with a smile.

Save for a few, most of the caps are also not kept for long and are dismantled to give way for a new artwork. Hiromi says that while they were creating their book, she was creating and dismantling them on a daily basis

Hiromi hopes she can someday open a workshop to teach the craft to fellow cat owners. The Japanese word “nukege,” meaning “to shed hair,” usually brings up the image of a balding man. Now, the term has a cuter feel to it, she says.

“Maybe some day ‘nukege’ will be as commonly used as ‘karaoke’ or ‘sushi,'” she adds with a laugh.