Ryoko Kikuchi was walking home from a Tokyo cinema when she saw a yacht-sized cat strutting over the sidewalk, shyly licking its paws.

“The way he meows was too cute to take,” she said.

A lot of people in Tokyo feel the same, it doesn’t matter if the cat is just a bunch of pixels on a billboard. The 4K display doesn’t officially “open” until Monday, but it has already drawn socially distant crowds – and inspired many social media posts – since it was installed last month.

The digital calico behaves a bit like a real cat, in the sense that it does what it wants. Visitors are only allowed a few brief appearances per hour, between a stream of commercials and music videos.

The cat yawns here and there, and at 1 a.m. it falls asleep for about six hours, resting its head on white paws that hug the side of what appears to be an outdoor perch near the metro station. Shinjuku. (The three-dimensional look is an illusion created by a 26ft by 62ft curved LED screen.)

He also speaks, greeting pedestrians with “nyannichiwa”. It is a mixture of “konnichiwa” or hello and “nyan”, Japanese for “meow”.

Unlike most billboards and flashing signs in the area, the chat does not advertise a particular product or brand.

Takayuki Ohkawa, spokesperson for Japanese conglomerate Unika, one of the two companies running the cat show, said the cat did not have an official name. (Fans called it “Shinjuku East Exit Cat,” after the station.)

“There are many reasons why we decided to display the cat, but one of the main ones is that with the crown the world has become very dark,” Mr Ohkawa added, referring to the pandemic. of coronavirus. “Through the cat exhibit, we wanted to bring Shinjuku back to life and make it brighter.”

Tokyo authorities on Wednesday reported 920 new Covid-19 infections, the city’s highest tally since mid-May. The Japanese government on Thursday placed Tokyo under its fourth state of emergency since the pandemic began, weeks before the city hosted the Summer Olympics.

When a fan of the feline, Kenjiro Shimoda, recently stopped by Shinjuku Station, he saw other people waiting to record several cat cameos. There could only be time to see one, he said, but it was worth it.

“Its impact has been more powerful than I thought,” said Mr. Shimoda, who works in marketing.

It’s not the first three-dimensional billboard to delight pedestrians and social media users in East Asia. Last year, in Seoul, a breaking wave took place. Another, in southwest China’s Chengdu city, showed a “Star Trek” -type spacecraft that appeared to emerge from a building.

A video feed from the cats bulletin board is broadcast live for those who cannot visit the Shinjuku area. Around lunchtime Thursday, nearly 200 YouTube users were watching the cat wag its tail and gaze at subway cars on the surface.

Yet human cat masters have recognized that the three-dimensional illusion is not as pronounced on a live feed as it is in person.

Some people – even cats – may also find that the Shinjuku East Outlet cat repertoire can start to feel a bit repetitive. Mr Ohkawa said new visuals could be introduced on Monday, but declined to expand.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.

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