One of the best Japanese Kanji dictionary.

Share this page

Kanji for Cat, adored neighbors

Kanji for Cat, adored neighbors

Cats are loved in Japan the same as in many other countries.

The Kanji for cats is 猫.

In this article, let me introduce words and idioms using 猫, breeds familiar to Japanese people, and a traditional cat figurine.

The origin of the Kanji

猫 is a 形声文字(Kēsē moji) which is a combination of radical and the part representing the sound. 苗 represents the sound “byō,” which is the On-yomi of 猫.

Summary of kanji

Words using 猫

Some words are using the cat’s characteristics.

  1. 猫舌(nekojita)  ねこじた
    舌(shita) means tongue. This word means a person who cannot eat or drink hot things (those with high temperature, not spicy).
  2. 猫背(nekoze) 猫背
    背 means back. Therefore, this means “stoop-shouldered.”

    A person with 猫背

  3. 猫じゃらし(nekojarashi) 猫じゃらし
    「じゃらす」is, not a word frequently used only by itself, but has a meaning “to let a cat or something play with toys, etc.”
    猫じゃらし means a “foxtail” since it looks like a toy to play with cats.


  4. 猫なで声(nekonadegoe) 猫なで声
    This word means “an ingratiating or a coaxing voice.”
    This word is a mixture of “猫” and “なでる”(naderu, stroke) and 声(koe, voice).

Idioms with 猫

  1. 猫の手も借りたい(Neko no temo karitai) 猫の手も借りたい
    「の」(no) means “of,” 手(te) is for the hand, “も”(mo) means “even” in this context, “借りる”(kariru) is a verb for “to borrow,” and “たい”(tai) is an auxiliary verb meaning “to want.” Therefore, it literally means “I want to borrow someone’s hand, even though if it is a hand of a cat.” This phrase means “a person is so busy that he or she will take any help they can get.”
  1. 猫に小判(Neko ni koban) ●猫に小判
    小判(koban) is an oval gold coin used in the Edo period, which was highly valuable at that time. However, cats don’t understand the value of it. Therefore, it means “It is no use to give someone a highly valuable thing who can’t understand it.”There is a similar idiom 「豚に真珠」(Buta ni shinju), which means “It is like casting pearls before swine.” 豚 means pigs, and 真珠 means “pearl.” The reason why there is the same idiom in English is that it came from the Bible.
  1. 猫をかぶ(被)る(Neko o kaburu) 猫をかぶる
    「かぶる」(kaburu) is a word used to wear hats or something from above. Therefore, this literally means “to wear a cat on one’s head.In this context, a cat is a symbol of a creature that is small, innocent, and should be protected. This idiom means “to hide claws and act like he or she is innocent.”

Some breeds frequently seen in Japan-和猫(Waneko) or 日本猫(Nihonneko)

There are some breeds familiar to Japanese people. They are called 和猫(Waneko) or 日本猫(Nihonneko). Let me introduce some of them to you.

  1. 白猫(Shironeko)
  2. 黒猫(Kuroneko)
  3. 三毛猫 or ミケ猫(Mikeneko): cats with fur in three colors
  4. サビ猫(Sabineko)
  5. トラ猫(Toraneko)
    トラ(Tora) means tiger and トラ猫means tiger cat. They have different names depending on their colors.

    茶トラ(Chatora) on the left side andサバトラ(Sabatora) on the right side

    Oneブチ猫(shown below) on the left and twoキジトラ on the right

  6. ブチ猫(Buchineko)
  7. One more thing…NEKOMATA.
    If your cat lives a long, long life…it may transform into a Japanese folk monster.

    An illustration of 猫又(Nekomata)

    猫又(Nekomata) is a kind of 妖怪(Yōkai, Japanese folk monsters). If a cat lives a very long life, it is said that its tail will split down into two and will transform into Nekomata.

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

This question might be universal around the world. A cat person is called 猫派(Nekoha), and a dog person is called 犬派(Inuha).

So, the question above is like this in Japanese:

「あなたは猫派ですか、犬派ですか。」(Anata wa nekoha desuka inuha desuka.) あなたは猫派ですか、犬派ですか。

「派」(ha) is a Kanji character for “a group with the same thoughts.” For example, it is used for the word 派閥(habatsu), meaning factions in politics. There is a similar question like 「あなたはそば派ですか、うどん派ですか」(Anata wa soba ha desu ka udon ha desu ka) あなたはそば派ですか、うどん派ですか, meaning “Are you a Soba noodle person or an Udon noodle person?”

Manekineko – Cat figurines that bring good luck

Ceramic doll Japanese welcoming lucky Cat. ( Maneki Neko ):Japanese characters means good luck or fortune.

Have you ever seen a cat figurine that looks like this? It is called 招き猫(Manekineko) and is believed to bring good luck. 招く(maneku) means “to invite.”

To understand why they look like that, you first need to understand the difference in the gesture of asking people to come over. In English speaking countries, the gesture for “come here” looks like this, right?

But in Japan, you need to turn your paw dawn and wave a few times to beckon someone.

Japanese gesture for beckoning

By the way, there are different meanings for which hand they are raising. If the cat is raising its right hand, it’s inviting money. If the cat is raising its left hand, it’s inviting people, who are often customers or guests. Raising both hands might be considered as “throw hands up,” therefore, Manekineko usually raises only one hand

Manekineko is a kind of figurine that is very familiar to Japanese people, and you can find them in many privately run shops.

If you want to see hundreds of them, try visiting 豪徳寺(Gōtokuji) temple and 今戸神社(Imado jinja) shrine in Tokyo. You will be overwhelmed with the numerous Manekineko.


Imado shrine

絵馬(Ema, wooden boards which people write their prayers or wishes on) in 今戸神社

How they live in Japan

Cats living in the wild is called 野良猫(Noraneko), and those living in the house is called 家猫(Ieneko). In recent days, there are some cats called 地域猫(Chīkineko), literally “neighborhood’s cat.” People living in the neighborhood take care of them and, in some cases, take them to veterinary clinics for fixing

There are some small islands called 猫島(Nekojima), literally “Cat Island.” You can see so many cats on the island as if there are more cats than humans. In most of these islands, the fishing industry is prosperous. You can see many cats relaxing in a peaceful town on the island.

Some famous Nekojima are; Enoshima(Kanagawa Prefecture), Manabeshima(Okayama Prefecture), Heiguntō(Yamaguchi Prefecture), Ainoshima(Fukuoka Prefecture), Aoshima(Ehime Prefecture), Ogijima(Kagawa Prefecture), and Taketomijima(Okinawa Prefecture). It’s pretty nice to ride on a boat and visit those small islands, as there is a peaceful atmosphere and you could forget about the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cats coveting fish near the fisherman

Lastly, I would like to introduce a music video of the song「猫の惑星」(Planet of cats) by 打首獄門同好会(Uchikubi Gokumon Dōkōkai). They collected videos of cats from all over Japan and made this video. By watching this, you can know how cats in Japan act in their houses. They stay in こたつ(Kotatsu, a heated foot warmer table with a blanket), sit on a bathtub lid or in front of the stove (because it’s warm there!), and break 障子 (Shoji, paper sliding doors) and 襖 (Fusuma, sliding doors). That should be unique to Japanese cats because of the house structure in Japan. However, sitting on keyboards, scratching the sofa, and diving into bags and boxes should be universal.

As the lyrics say, “We were born on a planet where cats live, and we are drowning in love for cats.” That’s true for cat lovers!

Share this link via

Or copy link