Wajima Lacquer Artist Rescues Cats Separated from Owners in Noto Earthquake

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kohei Kirimoto, a lacquer artist in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, takes care of a cat at a shipping container house in the city.

The Noto Peninsula Earthquake on Jan. 1 affected not only people but also pet cats — many of them were separated from owners following the disaster. Kohei Kirimoto, a lacquerware artist in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, is taking in such felines to help them reunite with their owners.

Kirimoto, whose own cats went missing in the disaster, works tirelessly to return as many cats as possible back to their owners.

One day, in the suburbs of Wajima, he was setting up a cage trap under a destroyed house. “I heard there are still 15 cats in this area,” he said. “Pet cats cannot survive without humans.”

He was out with his wife Mone, his parents as well as his younger brother and his wife for the New Year’s shrine visit when the deadly quake hit the city. He found out on TV that the Asaichi-dori morning market street, where his house is, was on fire. He prayed for his three cats at home, thinking, “Please survive somehow.”

However, Kirimoto’s home was burned down. The couple searched for their pets while taking shelter at his father’s workshop nearby, which survived the fire unscathed. Soon after, they found Gura, their 3-year-old female cat, dead nearby. They also found what appeared to be the remains of either Haku or San, their 7-month-old tomcats at the charred ruins of their house.

After posting about such day-to-day on social media, he was contacted by those whose cats also went missing and began searching for them together.

They set up traps in places cats are likely to walk by. When caught, Kirimoto takes them in to the shipping container house of his father’s workshop. He then posts photos of the cats on social media and confirms they belong to those claiming to be their owners.

Because the number of cats he can care for is limited, he sends those whose owners did not show up after some time to an animal welfare organization outside the city caring for .

With help from his peers, Kirimoto has taken in a total of 61 cats as of Monday. Of those rescued, 40 reunited with their owners. Recently, one cat was finally returned to its owner after being rescued more than a month ago.

Kirimoto says he has not given up hope.

“It’s devastating for owners to get separated from the ones they’ve always been with,” he said. “I’d like to find their beloved cats as soon as possible and reunite them with their owners.”