What's the story behind the samurai walking a cat, anyway?

‘Warrior takes armoured cat for a walk’

‘Warrior takes an armored cat for a walk’ (着甲武人猫散歩逍遥図) by Noguchi Tetsuya, 2014. Image widely shared on social media.

There's an image that's been shared on social media dozens of times over the past few years, typically without attribution. The image depicts a shoeless samurai walking an armored cat. The samurai has a helmet with cat ears, and the image appears to be weathered and old, perhaps dating back to Medieval Japan.

There are a variety of explanations of what's being depicted:

In reality, the paint is the creation of Japanese artist Tetsuya Noguchi, whose specialty is to depict samurai in bizarre, often comic situations.

He appears to have mastered traditional techniques to create highly-detailed replica armor that would not be out of place in a museum.

Writing for web magazine artscape Japan, which covers Japan's art scene, Alan Gleason dubbed the style “samurai surrealism”. He explains:

Every few years an artist gains cachet with pictures of hamburger-munching geishas and the like, painted in the fashion of ukiyoe or Nihonga. Though the gimmick is fun the first time, after a while it gets pretty predictable — good for a laugh or two, but hardly the trenchant commentary on “traditional vs. modern” that the artist usually proclaims it to be.

The best practitioners of this genre (Masami Teraoka comes to mind) make it work not because of the obvious satire, but because of their mastery of the classical art form used to set up the spoof. And once in a while the artist's technique is so exquisite that it elevates the work entirely out of the realm of parody, however droll the subject matter.

Tetsuya Noguchi's work is just such an example.

Other works by the Tokyo-based artist include a lifelike sculpture of a samurai wearing ladybug-styled armor:

Besides frequently popping up on Twitter, Noguchi's work is regularly shown in Japan. His exhibition ‘From Medieval With Love‘ is currently on display at the Pola Museum Annex in Ginza, Tokyo.

Humorous statues of warriors: Tetsuya Noguchi displays his large-scale statues in Ginza starting tomorrow (i.e., July 13, 2013).

This short documentary from 2017 outlines his creative process (in Japanese, with YouTube English-language captions):

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