Anne Ishii & Natto Bean

“Natto Bean is one of the friendliest animals I’ve ever known and the fact that she is a cat is astonishing but it’s also like…why, of course she’s friendly. Cats aren’t all buttholes. It’s just that my husband Christian and I have known plenty of butthole cats. Dogs and birds, too. In fact, I realized when we found ourselves easily gossiping about animals at length, that Christian was a keeper. Then we took our first big vacation trip together to Istanbul, where we witnessed firsthand, a utopian cat ecosystem thriving within the human urban paradise. After that trip it became clear to us we could take our relationship to the next level and adopt a cat.

Finding Natto was a journey, and I’d like to think feline kismet saved the most sentient and empathetic cat just for us, knowing our threshold for doling and accepting fawning affection was higher than just about any human in the world. In my dreams, I am buried in affectionate pets every night and wake up to them all lapping at my feet.

Initially, we’d courted a storefront window cat named Lola, who lazily seduced us from a carpeted perch, with a handwritten sign taped to her window announcing she was looking for permanent home. After calling and being interviewed by the storekeeper, we were told we weren’t qualified because she needed “someone with more experience with cats.” I never thought being rejected by a cat broker would feel so bad, but as far as rejection is concerned, it was right up there with being denied a small business loan.

It took us two attempts to adopt a cat at the Animal Care Center in Harlem before meeting Natto. The first time, we’d immediately put claim on a grey kitten only to be told she’d actually already been spoken for and it was that the paperwork just hadn’t been updated on her sign.

The second time we went to the shelter, that fateful moment we met Natto, I’ll never forget. A volunteer was pitching me an exotic Persian cat whose parent had apparently just died. He told me that the cat hadn’t been cleared from quarantine yet but I could put my dibs on it now. He strongly emphasized that I shouldn’t miss this opportunity. He sounded like a used car salesman trying to convince me to upgrade from the minivan I came for, to the Corvette I didn’t know I wanted. In the middle of his pitch, I heard Christian call my name with excitement. Christian, a bona fide animal whisperer, stood on the other side of the room in front of small cage with a paw protruding from it, laying docile on the back of his hand. They were holding hands like Elizabethan dance partners.

As I approached him and prepared to meet the cat whose paw lay on his hand, I heard the opening piano sequence of “Halo” by Beyonce in my head. My pace slowed down and I started to smile, but when I turned my face toward the cage I made eye contact with a scrawny tabby sitting back on its haunches, exposing a shaved belly, a huge scar, and a bunch of swollen nipples. “Halo” immediately turned into “Doll Parts” by Hole.

If I’m being completely honest, I thought Christian might’ve been high. I told him about the exotic Persian cat, which he agreed was sexy, but also, “really stuck up. I don’t want a snobby cat.” I couldn’t argue with that. I sighed and I waved hello to Courtney Love teen mom nipple cat, and then she laid her hand on mine, without a soupçon of claw, and I understood what Christian intuited–this cat was perfect and I adored her.

We named Natto after the stinky Japanese fermented soybean condiment because we’re actually the buttholes. It’s funny, though, to realize a cat can adopt not just its parents’ mood and temperament but sense of humor as well. By that I just mean she makes us laugh every day. In the three of four years of her life we’ve known her, I’d like to think we make her laugh every day, too.”

Anne Ishii is a writer and owner of MASSIVE GOODS, an agency and fashion brand that brings queer and feminist Japanese art to North America and Europe. She’s lived in New York since 2001 and for almost all 16 years and counting, has lived with a cat, but Natto Bean is the first animal to truly belong to her.


Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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