Neko – Cats in Japan

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Do you know how to say cat in Japanese? Ever heard of the term Neko? Ever wondered why the Japanese love cats so much? In this guide we will answer these and other questions.

What does neko mean?

The answer after starting to read this article is quite obvious, it literally means cat. It doesn't matter if it's a male or female cat, there are no differences in the Japanese language, they are called neko.

Neko gives meaning to several other Japanese cultural words, we will list them below, each word has a special article talking about it:

How do you say cat in Japanese?

Neko is not the only way to say cat in Japanese, there are some synonyms and variations you can add to your vocabulary:

  • Kuroneko [黒猫] – Black Cat;
  • Aibyou [愛猫] – Pet cat;
  • nekoma [猫] – Cat (archaic);
  • kato [カト] – From English Cat;
  • Karaneko [唐猫] – China Cat;
  • Kaineko [飼い猫] – Pet cat;
  • noranek [野良猫] – Street cat; Feral cat;
  • nekogirai [猫嫌い] - Hates cats; Cat Haters;
  • toranek [トラ猫] – Tabby Cat; tiger cat; striped cat;
  • bakeneko [化け猫] – Magic cat; monster cat;
  • Mikeneko [三毛猫] – Japanese Bobtail (three colors);
  • sunaneko [砂猫] – Sand cat;
  • manekineko [招き猫] – Japanese cat ornament;
  • nekokan [猫缶] – Canned cat food;

Related word:

  • Yowamushi [弱虫] – Coward; Scared Cat;
  • NyaaNyaa [にゃーにゃー] – Meow onomatopoeia;
  • nekojita [猫舌] – Cat tongue (does not like hot food and drinks);

Why do the Japanese love cats?

While in Brazil dogs dominate Brazilian homes, in Japan cats rule. If you know Japanese culture well, you must have noticed the Japanese passion and obsession with cats.

Just browse the Instagram of some Japanese and find several profiles full of pictures of cats. In this article, we will understand some of the passion and influence of cats in Japan.

The Japanese love cats because they are cute, clean, and easy to keep as a pet. Owning a pet can be hard work in Japan, as many don't have the time or live in apartments.

 For most Japanese, having a dog is out of the question. A cat can come out much cheaper and easier. Unlike dogs, cats clean themselves, walk around the neighborhood by themselves, don't mind being alone all day and don't bother the owner so much wanting attention while he's at home.

Of course, many other historical and cultural things are involved in the Japanese passion for cats. even the kawaii culture emphasizes cats more than other animals.

To understand more about cats in Japan, we need to know their history in the Japanese archipelago. Another reason is the fact that cats are related to luck in Japan. For Buddhists and Shintoists, cats are represented as sacred and cursed creatures.

Cats in japan - understanding japanese passion for cats
Cat cafe in Japan

The history of cats in Japan

Records show that cats in Japan were imported from China and were initially seen as a luxury animal, only for the rich and noble. Cats were extremely rare in the past, they were not used to hunt mice but as a sign of good luck.

Some developed the idea that having a cat in your store or trade would bring good fortune or luck, thus creating the famous maneki-neko symbol. It's not just in the present day, but since the mid 1800's cats have existed in Japanese works and artwork. 

In the Edo period (1603-1868), Hiroshige Utagawa and Kuniyoshi Utagawa painted cats, and in the Meiji period (1868-1912), the great novelist Soseki Natsume wrote a novel named “I Am a Cat”, which became a famous masterpiece of Japanese literature.

The importance of the cat in Japan was also related to mice. We all know that Japan grows a lot of rice, cats were needed to protect rice from mice. 

There are several shrines that worship cats as gods in Japan, currently they also exert a lot of influence on Japanese culture. Places that show traces of the relationship between cats and people are scattered all over Japan.

Cats in japan - understanding japanese passion for cats

The influence of cats in Japan

Cats gained even more fame in Japan due to the influence of Japanese media. In addition to the various works of the past, the emergence of Hello Kitty was one of the great impulses for the Japanese passion for cats. In Jinbocho/Tokyo, there is even a library/bookstore specializing in cat-related books called Nyankodo.

Cats in japan - understanding japanese passion for cats

Another great example of the Japanese passion for cats is the neko-café spread all over Japan that allows people to play with cats while enjoying a coffee.

The cat has great importance even in anime, either as a character or as a reference in cosplayers with cat ears. Not to mention the countless islands full of cats scattered across Japan. Where there are more cats than residents.

On the internet, in the 90s, cats became famous in magazines, blogs, emails and internet albums. They became main characters of memes, and had a large participation in youtube videos and 4chan posts.

Even today cats remain culturally influential and relevant on the internet, there are dozens of social networking pages and videos on media sharing sites like youtube and nico nico douga.

Cats in japan - understanding japanese passion for cats

Japanese Bobtail – miIke

The Japanese Bobtail or mi-ke [三毛] is a breed of cat originally from Japan. Its name represents its unique feature which consists of three [三] different colors in its fur [毛].

The miike is one of the few famous cat breeds in Japan. One of its features is its short, curled tail that is very reminiscent of a stump dog. He can also be born with different colored eyes.

The cat is perfect for raising at home due to its intelligence, temperament and ability to learn things. He is quiet, faithful, friendly, curious, affectionate and sociable, adapting easily to change.

Neko - cats in japan

Japan's most famous cats

In the midst of this story, some cats stood out due to their fame on the internet or in a certain place in Japan. We will list below these cats that influenced or represented Japan in some way:

Hope you enjoyed this little article! Do you like cats? Do you think there was something missing about cats in Japan? We appreciate the comments and shares.

Japan cats videos

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