Cat IDs: IDs for Cats
Most memorable photos happen at the intersection of preparation and chance. To really know how a moment created itself would require insight into the chain of events bringing all the important factors together. Upon inspection, such a chain would seem miraculous, as any alteration to the chain would surely prevent the moment from occurring. For this photo, taken in a small Osaka bar, a few links in the chain were readily apparent to me, and their story serves as a good illustration of one of the most important principles to follow while traveling.
On one of our routine urban hikes, my friends and I stumbled upon a small toy store in an otherwise bland and ‘grown up’ looking neighborhood of Osaka. On a table outside, my friend noticed a deck of cards with the outward facing sample card showing a photo ID for a cat. These IDs were consistent with a broader cat-loving theme among the Japanese. For a couple bucks, we were easily enticed, and since each of the 20 or so cards was individually wrapped for maximum surprise factor, we were in for a cheap recurring delight.
The cards made for a quick, fulfilling laugh, but it wasn’t until much later that they played a more critical role in our subsequent experiences and in this particular photograph. We meandered our way from the oldest shrine in Japan into a shoulder width bar on a side street off a side street off of the major thoroughfare. Practical English was beyond any patrons’ grasp (and our Japanese was even worse), but that did not prevent them from encouraging us to squeeze in with them for some beer and sake. Using mostly Google Translate, we managed to converse extensively with a young police officer who eventually opened up to us enough to tell us about his father - also a cop - who had recently passed. Despite the somber tone we arrived at, my friend placed Police Inspector Cat in front of our new friend, and he laughed almost to the point of tears. Fortunately, my camera never left my hand on this trip and I caught a moment that will shape my memory of Japan for the rest of my life.
That exchange began its own chain reaction, bringing several other bar patrons over to admire our impressive array of cat IDs (chef cat, cigarette smoking biker gang cat, plastic surgeon cat, etc), and ultimately leading to a series of arm wrestling bouts with the American-football-loving/playing bartender and a local champion arm wrestler (no further explanation could make more sense than you have right now).
Many of the best experiences in travel are serendipitous, spontaneously occurring and impossible to coordinate in advance. I keep this in mind wherever I go, following two basic rules: 1) Have a rough plan to get out into the world and 2) Say ‘yes’ to opportunity. There’s no way to know what might happen; you can’t engineer the kind of experience we had in this bar, but we fostered the conditions that made interesting experiences more likely to occur. And if you’re a photographer, keep your eyes open and your camera in hand.