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Japanese and Cats Part 1 / 日本人と猫

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Hello Kitty is not the only indication of Japanese obsession with the feline. You will see porcelain cats with one raised paw (see photo below) in many store fronts in Japan. I believe most of them have a gold coin attached to their leg, but I have seen the one without. This cat is called Maneki-neko (Inviting-cat). So, you’d probably ask what this cat is inviting. It’s supposed to invite a financial fortune if right paw is raised and people if left paw is raised. Japanese merchants love to put this figurine at the place of their business as a good luck charm. Maneki-neko also is available as a piggy bank with a coin slot in the back of its head. There are several theories of how the Maneki-neko tradition came about. The most popular theory is that a well-known warlord in Edo-period (AD 1600s) made a detour to a temple drawn by a cat that was sitting in the premise of the temple. As the result the detour, he was able to avoid a certain disaster on the intended route, so he started worshipping a cat as a sign of good luck.

Japanese cat ornament, maneki-neko, まねきねこ

There is other eccentric cat culture in Japan. The first cat-café appeared in Osaka in early 2000 (very first cat café ever was opened in Taiwan in the late 90’s), and immediately became a popular place for relaxation and enjoyment for cat lovers who cannot afford to own one. Café patrons pay by the hour to sit and pet cats. Although there have been some concerns as to operating the cafés such as sanitization issues and conflicts with animal right groups, the business has spread across Japan, nonetheless. I have never been in a cat café, but as an owner of two cats, I am in a total agreement that petting cats (or dogs or whatever your preferred animals) does have therapeutic effects. Instantaneous feeling of unconditional love is one undeniable effect. The interaction makes you smile, melts your heart and brings out the goodness in you.

I also must mention exclusive cat owner apartments. No, I’m not kidding, and the number of such apartments is rising along with increased cat ownership during the pandemic. The supply of such apartments is limited, so one needs to be on a long waiting list. Cat apartments are designed with human/cat cohabitation in mind. To accommodate cats that are a more spatial animal than humans, some apartments feature multiple level living incorporating vertical design elements. The bathroom is larger than normal in consideration of positioning a cat litter box, and a dirty litter waste shoot is conveniently located by the litter space. Some apartments even come with on-site sitter service. It sounds like a cat owner’s heaven to me. I will introduce some old Japanese sayings and expressions that include Neko (a cat in Japanese) in the next article. Not surprisingly, there are quite a few of them.


A: おう、鈴木(すずき)! 今晩(こんばん)、一杯(いっぱい)やらない

B: あっ、ごめん。猫(ねこ)の世話(せわ)をしなきゃいけないから、また今度(こんど)。

A: えっ? 猫? 猫なんて飼(か)ってたっけ

B: いやいや、友達(ともだち)の猫で、友達が旅行(りょこう)をしている間(あいだ)、預(あず)かっているんだ。

A: そうか。 猫の世話ってやったことがないけど、犬(いぬ)と違(ちが)って、散歩(さんぽ)をしなくてもいいから、楽(らく)だろ?

B: そうだね。でもリターボックスの処理(しょり)が大変(たいへん)なんだよ。

A: リターボックスって何(なに)?

B: 猫のトイレだよ。俺(おれ)のアパートは狭(せま)いから、いない間に臭(にお)いがこもっちゃって、こまっているんだ。それさえなければ、俺になついていて可愛(かわい)いんだけどね。ウチに来て見てみる?

A: いやー、猫はちょっと苦手(にがて)なんで、遠慮(えんりょ)しとくよ。じゃ、また今度。猫ちゃんによろしく!


*above conversation includes many colloquial spoken Japanese expressions. Discuss about the use of “ん” . ん is often used in spoken Japanese. Adds emotional emphasis, can be attached to plain form verbs, i-adj, and na-adj. Be careful not to overuse it.

一杯やらない Why don’t we go for a drink(normally alcohol). やらない in this case implies “going for a drink at the bar.”  しないis not applicable for this usage.

しなきゃいけない Colloquial use of しなければならない=must do

たっけ?  Colloquial use of ましたか? Plain form of verbs +“っけ”. It adds a sense of reminiscing. Here, “(I don’t remember) you having a cat.”

預かって て-form of 預かる=look after someone’s property

ったことがない have not experienced

〜と違って unlike~. Here “Unlike dogs”

こもっちゃって (籠っちゃって)て-form ofこもる+しまう. しまう adds a nuance of regrettable action. Here, unfortunately, the odor stays in the room.

さえ p. 〜さえ+conditional ば=if the condition is satisfied, it would bring acceptable results. Here, if smelly situation can be avoided, the cat is cute and emotionally attached to me.

なついていて て-form of なつく+て-form ofいる, なつく=get attached

しとく colloquial use of しておく て-form +おく expresses intentional action to achieve certain results. Here, I will (intentionally) refrain from visiting (so that I don’t have to deal with a cat because I’m not fond of them.)


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