What Are the Japanese Words for Cats and Dogs? Learn about INU, NEKO, WAN-WAN, and NYAN!

If you’ve got a dog and you want to take it to Japan with you, then you’re in luck! The Japanese love dogs! They even have dog cafes where you take your dog to eat with you!

Or perhaps you’re more of a cat person? They’ve got cat cafes too! But they’re a little different than the doggie version. Cat cafes are a place that are full of cats that you can pet and play with.

But the differences between American cats and dogs, and Japanese cats and dogs don’t end there. They even speak differently!

We’ll talk about dogs first, and then move on to cats!

What is the Japanese Word for Dog? 犬

The Japanese word for “dog” is (inu) and it’s pronounced like “ee-new.” The kanji for it looks almost identical to the kanji for “big”  except that it has an extra dash added to it. Perhaps the ear of the dog?

In America, dogs say woof! woof! or bark! bark!  but in Japan they say  ワン!ワン! (wan! wan!)

In fact, a pretty common name for a puppy in Japan is ワンちゃん (wan chan) which is a combination of the sound a dog makes ワン, and the name suffix ちゃん.

Some of the compound words that use  as a part of it are:

  • 愛犬 (aiken) = Pet dog
  • 番犬 (banken) = Guard dog
  • 野犬 (yaken) = Stray dog
  • 猟犬 (ryouken) = Hunting dog

What is the Japanese Word for Cat? 猫

The Japanese word for “cat” is (neko) and it’s pronounced like “neh-ko.” If you take a look at the left radical in the kanji, you’ll see that it is actually the radical for dog. It gets modified when it’s used as a part of other kanji.

kanji for dog changes
The Kanji for Dog changes form when it’s used as a radical in other kanji

So rather than saying “meow!“, the cats in Japan actually say ニャン (nyan).

You see this used in a lot of jokes in anime and manga. Often times a character that looks or act similar to a cat has the word ニャン somewhere in their name. That, or they will say the word ニャン at the end of each of their sentences.

Some of the compound words that use  as a part of it are:

  • 飼い猫 (kai neko) = Pet cat
  • 山猫 (yama neko) = Wild cat
  • 野良猫 (nora neko) = Stray cat
  • 黒猫 (kuro neko) = Black cat

Tashirojima – The Island of Cats

Tashirojima Island
Did you know that there is an island off the coast of Japan that is completely overrun by cats? It’s called 田代島 Tashirojima and there are more cats living on it than there are people. In fact, the cats outnumber the people by 6-1!

Sorry, no pets dogs allowed!

And don’t worry about any black cats crossing your path on this island. In the Japanese culture, cats are considered to bring good luck, money, and good fortune to you!

There is even a shrine for the cats! It is called 猫神社 (neko jinja). Be sure to stop by and pay your respect to the cats when your there! 😉

What do you think? Is an island ruled by cats crazy?

Then how about eleven of them!? Yep, one cat island wasn’t enough! Read about all of them and check out the pictures here!

Sorry dog lovers, no such luck when it comes to the canine side of things 🙁

Now I want to hear from you! What do you think about cats and their islands? Would you like it if there were doggie islands too? Let me know what you think with a comment below!



  • Jayne

    We visited a pet cafe when we were in Japan and they had cats, rabbits and even a turtle. I loved visiting Japan and hope to go back. I hadn’t heard of the island of cats though. Your site is great! I tried to learn some basic of Japanese in the past, but its not easy! will be checking out your site, thanks!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Jayne, that is pretty awesome that you got to visit a pet cafe while in Japan! It’s a little surprising that there aren’t more places like that around the world considering just how popular they are.

      Yeah, learning Japanese can be hard when you first start off. Like any new language, there’s a lot of information and it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re looking for some FREE resources to get started on Japanese anytime, then check out this earlier post I wrote on ways that you can do that.

      Click Here to Lean Japanese for FREE!


  • Bea

    Wow! What an interesting post. I never knew there was a cat island anywhere….the fact that cats out number humans too is fascinating. Is it safe to visit such an island? Do they have certain rules that people have to follow when they arrive at the island for the first time? It’s also fascinating that cats and dogs make different sounds compared to their american counterparts. Thanks for this great post.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah there are some rules you have to observe when visiting one of the cat islands. Like you can’t bring any dogs with you, lol. It makes sense!

      Yeah it’s pretty safe to visit. Some people live there after all. But the human population is pretty small on those islands. I guess not too many people want to be surrounded on all sides by cats! I know I couldn’t live there!

  • stefan vogt

    Hi Nick, Interesting
    The word for dog is inu but in the word pet dog or so, inu does not appear. Must be quite difficult to learn Japanese.
    I live in Thailand and am learning Thai, not easy as well. To the reading and writing I didn’t come yet though.
    Have a nice time

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Stefan, learning Japanese is hard when you first start out, but it actually gets a lot easier the more you get into it. I’m not all that familiar with Thai, but I’d be willing to guess that there is a similar learning curve for it too.

      And yeah, it’s pretty interesting how the pronunciation of Japanese words will change when they are used in conjunction with others. Just one of those things you gotta get used to I guess!

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