Book Review: “Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat”

Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat | Miyoko Ihara

みさおとふくまる – Misao to Fukumaru
(Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat), by Miyoko Ihara
(Tōkyō : Ritorumoa, 2011)

Review by Hank.

book coverThe Internet and cats. Apparently, it’s a thing.

There is Maru (まる) of the 200 million+ views on YouTube. There is Grumpy Cat®: “The World’s Grumpiest Cat”. There is ScarfaceLil BUB the “perma-kitten”, and Colonel Meow: Entertainer. Locally, there’s Cooper: Photographer Cat, and Henri: Le Chat Noir. There are LOLcats, animated GIFs, and countless associated posters, t-shirts, plushies, coffee mugs, books and calendars.

Until now, none of these cybercats have ensnared me—okay, I dig Henri, but we share a vet—until Misao to Fukumaru. I discovered this little gem of a book via one of those dreaded chain email forwards. You know that email.

Maneki Neko Fukumaru! (Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features)

Maneki Neko Fukumaru!

But what a great discovery!

Photographer Miyoko Ihara (伊原 美代子) began making photos of her grandmother Misao in 2003 as a way of documenting her grandmother’s life. In 2006, Misao found a white kitten abandoned on her property, which she named Fukumaru, or as Ihara explains, “in hope the God of fuku (good fortune) comes and everything will be smoothed over like maru (circle).” The two have been inseparable ever since.

Fukumaru is so happy and contented at my grandmother’s side. When I take a picture of the two of them together it’s like I’m photographing myself as a little girl.

(Photo: Miyoko Ihara |Rex Features)

This Japanese photo book really needs no translation. There’s so much personality, love, and humor in these images, I immediately flipped the book over and went through it again.

Through this collection of images, we’re also given a peek into a more rural side of Japanese life. Though the Chiba Prefecture where Misao lives isn’t far outside of Tokyo, it seems worlds away. Similarly, Misao is ageless in her garden and orchard, even as the photographs document many years of birthdays and daily moments with her beloved cat.

As Ihara notes on, “When I see the way my grandmother is living her life, I really feel that she has a kind of strength that my generation simply can’t match. She gets up with the sun, and goes to bed when it sets. She loves her cat and the vegetables in her field like her own children. If her vegetables come out well, she’s happy. She doesn’t have to worry about questions like ’what is the point of my work?’ Her way of life fills me with admiration and a sort of envy.”

This is the second of two small books’ worth of photos of Misao and Fukumaru. Many of the images are available to view online (see links below), but this makes a great gift and/or coffee table book for almost anyone on your holiday list—even curmudgeonly old dogs.

Pick this book up. It might just make your day!

Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features

Miyoko Ihara Rex Features

Cherry Blossom Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features

"Tea" by Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features

"Fukumaru" by Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features

Misao Ihara by Miyoko Ihara | Rex Features


Find this book!

Seattle Public Library:



Misao & Fukumara on Facebook:

Miyoko Ihara’s website:

Related titles

Ihara’s first book: “Misao the Big Mama and Fukumaru the Cat, Goodbye, Hello”

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