Neko - Cats in Japan


Do you know how to say cat in Japanese? Have you heard of the term Neko? Ever wonder 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 is 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 a few below, each word has a special article talking about the subject:

How do you say cat in Japanese?

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

  • Kuroneko [黒猫] - Gato Preto;
  • Aibyou [愛猫] - Pet cat;
  • Nekoma [猫] - Cat (archaic);
  • Kato [カト] - From English Cat;
  • Karaneko [唐猫] - Cat from China;
  • Kaineko [飼い猫] - Pet cat;
  • Noraneko [野良猫] - Stray cat; Ferocious cat;
  • Nekogirai [猫嫌い] - Hates cats; Hater of cats;
  • Toraneko [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] - Onomatopoeia of meow;
  • Nekojita [猫舌] - Cat tongue (does not like food and hot drinks);

Why do Japanese people 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 a little of the passion and influence of cats in Japan.

Japanese people love cats because they are cute, clean and easy to keep as a pet. Having 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 be much cheaper and easier. Unlike dogs, cats clean themselves, walk around the neighborhood alone, do not mind being alone all day and do not bother the owner so much wanting attention while he is at home.


Of course, many other historical and cultural things are involved in the Japanese passion for cats. Even the kawaii culture gives more prominence to cats than other animals.

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

Gatos no japão - entendendo a paixão japonesa por gatos
Café de gatos no Japão

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 wealthy 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 shop would bring good fortune or luck, thus creating the famous symbol of the maneki-neko. It is not only today, but since the mid-1800s cats have existed in Japanese works and works of art. 

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 with the name “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 plants a lot of rice, cats were needed to protect rice from mice. 


There are several shrines that worship cats as gods in Japan, nowadays they also have a lot of influence in Japanese culture. Places that show traces of the relationship between cats and people are spread across Japan.

Gatos no japão - entendendo a paixão japonesa por gatos

The influence of cats in Japan

Cats have gained even more fame in Japan due to the influence of the Japanese media. In addition to the various works of the past, the rise of Hello Kitty it 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.

Gatos no japão - entendendo a paixão japonesa por gatos

Another great example of Japanese passion for cats is the neko-café spread across Japan which allows people to play with cats while enjoying 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 spread across Japan. Where there are more cats than residents.

On the internet, already in the 90s cats became famous in magazines, blogs, e-mails and albums on the internet. They became main characters of memes, and had great participation in youtube videos and 4chan posts.


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

Gatos no japão - entendendo a paixão japonesa por gatos

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 that consists of three [三] different colors in its fur [毛].

The miike is one of the few famous breeds of cat in Japan. One of its characteristics 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 breeding at home due to its intelligence, temperament and ability to learn things. He is calm, faithful, friendly, curious, affectionate and sociable, easily adapting to changes.

Neko – gatos no japão

Japan's most famous cats

In the middle 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 those cats that influenced or represented Japan in some way:

I hope you enjoyed this short article! Do you like cats? Do you think there was anything to add regarding cats in Japan? We appreciate comments and shares.

Videos of Cats of Japan