On the banks of the Tama River, a freelance photographer is documenting the daily lives of a colony of stray cats on his popular weblog, believing their community is a microcosm of human society.
Osamu Konishi, a 59-year-old cameraman who specializes in advertising photography, has photographed the vast number of wild felines living on the riverbank from Tokyo’s mountainous Okutama area to Tokyo Bay for the past two decades.
When observing cats on the bank through the finder of his camera, “the Tama River shows off its different face,” said Konishi, a resident of Kawasaki’s Nakahara Ward.
While cats seem to live uninhibited lives on the surface, the photographer said their community essentially mirrors problems in human society, from bullying to discrimination targeting the weak.
As “humans push around someone weaker than they are,” cats pick on weaker felines, and they bully each other, Konishi said. He keeps his camera trained on the cat community, hoping more people become interested in the “reality of life” there.
Konishi became intrigued by the feline colony on the banks of the Tama River, which runs along the border between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, when he encountered a large group of abandoned cats living there about a quarter-century ago.
He started documenting their daily lives, while he and his wife, Michiko, 59, also have voluntarily provided treatment to injured cats and had some neutered.
He now visits the riverbank from the Okutama area upstream to Tokyo Bay several times a week.
While many people visit the banks of the river to enjoy a rare greenery spot in the urban area, Konishi also aims his camera at felines that visitors would quickly turn their gazes from. These include cats that are just skin and bones, missing legs or eyes, and felines with sores on their skin.
People keep abandoning their pet cats on the riverbank, but some are fed by homeless people living in the shacks they have built along the river.
Felines lead difficult lives in the harsh natural environment along the Tama River, which is threatened by occasional flooding after heavy rain. Humans also push them around, and there has been an instance in which cruel people shot off firecrackers at a den of cats.
So, when news that a 13-year-old boy was murdered by a group of teenagers on the riverbank made headlines in February, Konishi thought it a tragedy that was waiting to happen, he said.
Hoping to help people reflect on their own society through the lives of cats on the riverbank, the photographer uploads their pictures on his weblog and occasionally organizes photo exhibitions.
Proceeds from postcards and other goods featuring his pictures of cats are used to cover expenses of treating injured felines and helping them obtain sterilization operations.