NIIGATA, Dec. 14 – This is neko-chigura, a woven cat house made of rice stalks. As the number of cat lovers increases in Japan, Sekikawa Tourist Information Center “Nya-mu” in Sekikawa Village, Niigata Prefecture, is receiving a growing number of inquiries about the products from all over the country. At Nya-mu, you can see local crafters demonstrating the production process of the handmade huts.
Neko-chigura is a folk craft derived from chigura, traditional rice straw baskets for babies of farmers working out in the fields some time ago. Its history began about forty years ago when Sekikawa villagers started to make them as unique local products.
The straw cradles are made out of rice stalks, which are dried under the sun for about two weeks and softened by rollers. The artisans have no pattern or drawing and totally depend on their expertise. The Sekikawa Village Neko Chigura Group has 28 member crafters some supporters.
“We have fun making the cradles and chatting, so our days are so short,” one of the members, Mari Ito, 74, said. “Manual works are good for us, old people, too,” she smiled. The buyers must wait three months to get them. A cat bed that can house one adult cat will cost 23,000 yen.