From the country that brought you cat cafes, cat kimonos, and Hello Kitty bullet trains, Japan’s Mikeneko Yamada roams the streets of Kurayoshi City selling sweet potatoes, known as yaki-imo, a popular winter snack that is ubiquitous throughout the nation.
Typically sold in autumn and winter, yaki-imo is a super sweet, nutty, dense, almost cake-like potato typically roasted on hot coals and eaten whole. If you’re in Japan during prime yaki-imo season, you should really pick one up. They’re a super cheap, much healthier alternative to a muffin or cake.
So why is a humanistic cat vendor slinging sweet potatoes across Kurayoshi? Well, why not? For Yamada, this is now a six-year gig. His outfit is an embodiment of the man’s love of cats, but it’s also a commemoration for the city’s past pets including his own. Once a loving cat owner, Yamada no longer has cats of his own, but the next best thing to getting another cat it seems, is becoming one.
It’s a pretty smart marketing ploy for the vendor as well; Yamada claims that cat lovers are some of the friendliest people he’s met. The yaki-imo kitty has become a hugely popular attraction for both tourists, kids, and local cat lovers alike, who all go out of their way to say hello and take the regular selfie.
The success of Yamada’s business doesn’t just rely on his costume. He’s a very serious yaki-imo connoisseur. His endless hunt for the most perfect potato has taken him across the region, practically tasting potatoes non-stop for the past half decade. So far on his journey, he claims to have found the best yaki-imo from Yonago City, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from his home city of Kurayoshi.
Once he picks up this special hard-to-find-potatoes, he cooks them for almost an entire day until they have reached cake-like consistency. Yamada is a little bit of a hometown hero, not just thanks to his costume and delicious potatoes, but also his generosity. He often gifts snacks to kids and others that may not be able to afford to pay for them.
So if you ever do find yourself travelling though the coastal corner of Tottori Prefecture, be sure to keep an eye out for Yamada, the sweet potato cat king.