Japanese and Cats Part 2 /日本人と猫 その2


There are quite a few idioms in English that include cats:“Cat got your tongue?”, “Raining cats and dogs”, “taking a cat nap”, “let the cat out of the bag”, “Curiosity killed the cat” and so on. I guess it shows a very long relationship between humans and felines. Cats are a part of our lives not only as a domesticated pet, but also as a part of daily language. The Japanese language too has a good number of idioms and old sayings in which cats play a part, but the role of a cat in the sayings seems to be slightly different from the ones that are in the English idioms. I thought it would be interesting to compare and analyze the role of cats in idioms to see if they tell us anything about our culture. The cats in the English sayings seem to be more dynamic and one can envision its motion whereas Japanese cats typically are characterized as passive and motionless. We attribute human values and characteristics to animals, so perhaps the characteristics of cats in the idioms reflect each nation’s mentality? Or, perhaps, Westerners envisioned cats as more predatory, large animals such as lions and tigers while Japanese merely observed domesticated smaller size cats? Even in art and literature, the same tendency can be seen. There are colorful felines in the Broadway musical Cats, Marvel’s sensual Catwoman, and the mischievous Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland are examples. They all are agile and very animated while the cat in Soseki Natsume’s masterpiece, “I am a cat”, doesn’t even have a name and just quietly perceives his master. Anyway, here are my picks for the six most used Japanese cat related idioms. You be the judge of whether my observations ring true.

Japan, Japanese, Language, Culture, Cats
Japanese and Cats Part 2

Neko ni koban 猫に小判 / A gold coin to a cat = means it is meaningless to give something expensive if a recipient doesn’t appreciate the value. This saying contradicts the belief of Manekineko (previous article). I guess Manekineko is an exceptional cat that understands the financial value of a gold coin (Koban).

Neko no te mo karitai猫の手も借りたい/ want to borrow even a cat’s hand = expresses an extremely busy situation (where even cats’ paw could be useful)

Karitekita neko借りてきた猫 / A borrowed cat = it describes someone’s uncharacteristically quite behavior.

Neko o kaburu猫を被る/ Wearing a cat = Behaves differently by hiding one’s true self.

Neko mo Shakushi mo猫も杓子も / Even cats and rice scoop = Everybody or everything. Shakushi is an old way of calling a rice scoop. Nowadays it’s called shamoji.

Neko no Hitai 猫の額 / Cat’s forehead = small space

*In the next blog, I will write about a big Japanese holiday week called Golden week which is coming shortly at the end of April through the first week of May.


A: あら、浅子(あさこ)さん、おひさしぶり。おげんきでしたか?

B: はい、げんきにしています。夏子(なつこ)さんもおげんきそうで。お仕事(しごと)の方(ほう)はいかがですか?

A: ええ、とても忙(いそが)しくて、猫(ねこ)の手も借(か)りたいぐらいです。アパートを探(さが)していらっしゃるとか聞(き)きましたが…

B: そうなんです。でもあまりいい物件(ぶっけん)がなくて困(こま)っているんです。ついさっきも一つ見てきたんですが、猫の額(ひたい)のようなアパートでした。日当(ひあ)たりも悪(わる)かったし…

A: 私のマンションの友達(ともだち)がアパートを貸(か)したいと言っていました。聞(き)いてみましょうか?

B: はい、是非(ぜひ)お願(ねが)いします。 ところで、お嬢(じょう)さんはおいくつになられたんですっけ

A: 今月(こんげつ)から中学生(ちゅうがくせい)ですよ。スマホを買(か)ってくれってうるさいんです。最近(さいきん)は猫も杓子(しゃくし)も携帯(けいたい)を持(も)っている時代(じだい)ですからね。じゃ、アパートの件(けん)、わかったら連絡(れんらく)しますね。

B: はい、よろしくおねがいします。じゃまた。しつれいします。


そうで aux.v. seems. A conjunctive form of そうだ.  “何よりです(I can’t be happier)” is omitted after そうで

の方は as to. You can simply say “お仕事はいかがですか(how is your work?)”. By adding の方は, you are emphasizing the subject. As to your work, how is it going?

ぐらい p. to the extent. Compare with another usage of くらい/ぐらい such as “approximation”.

とか p. two particles と(reference) +か(uncertainty). Here, “I heard perhaps you are looking for an apartment.”

あまり〜ない adv. Not many exists. A frequency expression.

物件 n. property used for real estate listings

困っている v. て-form verb 困る+いる I’m in trouble

のような Noun + の+ような= as if (like), here “like a cat’s forehead = very tiny”

日当たり n. sunlight 日当たりがいい=bright because sunlight comes in  日当たりが悪い=dark because sunlight doesn’t come in

マンション n. a residential building

っけ Plain form of verbs +“っけ”. It adds a sense of reminiscing.Here, “(I don’t remember) how old your daughter is now.”

くれって くれ is an imperative form of くれる って is a colloquial form of a particle,と, that refers to direct/indirect quote. Compare with another use of って

うるさい イ-adj. being persistent It also means noisy, but not applicable here.

たら p. when compare with “if” usage of たら