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Practical and beautiful cat bowls crafted in Japanese city popular with feline lovers

The Shussaigama studio's cat Ku eats dried bonito flakes from the bowl in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, on March 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Haruno Kosaka)

IZUMO, Shimane -- Ceramic cat bowls, both practical and beautiful, crafted at a long-established studio in this western Japan city have been winning the hearts of cat lovers.

    Ceramists taught by aesthetician and "mingei" folk craft movement founder Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) and others established the Shussaigama studio more than 70 years ago in the city's Hikawacho district.

    Studio executive and ceramist Kosuke Nakahachi, 41, who developed the cat bowl, is also a cat lover. Putting cats' health first, he made the bowls much taller than ordinary ones. Though creating an object meant for pets, Nakahachi went through a grueling process of trial and error to perfect the bowl's form, which embodies the practical, humble beauty that is a cornerstone of the mingei movement.

    Nakahachi decided to design a cat bowl after learning that cats' gullets bend when eating food from the low bowls common to many a cat owner's kitchen floor, resulting in a tendency to vomit. He also recalled a cat he used to have who ate less and less as it got older. In autumn 2018, the craftsman began to work on the project "to make a bowl that is easier for cats to use."

    Shussaigama studio ceramist Kosuke Nakahachi, who developed the cat bowl, and Ku the cat are seen in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, on March 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Haruno Kosaka)

    Nakahachi paid attention to the balance between the bowls' height and depth, and tested them with three cats at his home plus Shussaigama's 1 1/2-year-old male "idol" cat named Ku. When wet food fell on the floor during a test, he changed the shape of the bowl's next iteration, such as distending the brim inward. Creating the bowls to fit adult cats, he settled at a bowl height of about 16.5 centimeters, and arrived at a final version in February 2020.

    It is easy to wash because the glaze is fixed to the bowl just as with other ceramics, and because there are no seams. Mass production is also possible because the bowls are made with the same techniques used to turn out common dishes and cups.

    "It's an important principle of our studio to keep making bowls that go along with a user's life and enrich it," Nakahachi said. "I'd like people to use handmade bowls for their cats, who are members of the family."

    The cat bowls come in three colors: amber, zaffer and black. Each is priced at 6,600 yen (about $60). For more information, contact the Shussaigama studio by phone at 0853-72-0239 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Haruno Kosaka, Matsue Bureau)

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