Japanese

What Is The Japanese Word For Cat?

People around the world have long been in love with the feline race, and the people in Japan are no exception. They’ve got cats all over the place, including several islands that are overrun by them! What is the Japanese word for cat?

That’s what today’s lesson is all about. After we go over how to say cat in Japanese, we’ll take a look at the “sounds” that they make, since they are different from the “meow” we typically think of in English.

Then we’ll talk a little about owning a cat, since it requires the use of a special verb in Japanese. Finally, we’ll finish off the article by talking a little about cat culture in Japan.

How To Say Cat In Japanese

The most common Japanese word for cat is “neko” which is spelled in kanji as 猫 and hiragana as ねこ.

But this kanji can be combined with a few others in order to create different words for different types of cats.

One of them is 黒猫 (kuro neko) which means “black cat” and is simply the kanji for black combined with the kanji for cat. What’s interesting about black cats in Japan is that they actually bring good luck!

The reason is that black cats are believed to be able to ward off evil spirits in Japan. This is a situation where you actually do want them to cross your path!

Another useful word is 愛猫 (aibyou) which means “beloved cat” in Japanese. This is a word that can be used when you are talking about (or to) your cat whom you care for deeply and want to happy.

I suppose that for most people their cat would fall into this category.

The next cat word on our list is トラ猫 (tora neko) which combines the Japanese word for tiger トラ (tora) with the word for cat. With that knowledge in mind you can probably guess what kind of cat this one is.

If you said a tabby cat then you nailed it!

There are only a few other types of cats left to cover in this section, and one of them is a 三毛猫 (mike neko) which literally translates as “three hair cat” in English. Cat lovers will probably be able to guess this one as well.

It’s a calico cat which is actually one that my family had when I was a kid. We also had a tabby cat back then, but I digress.

The last word for this part is a loan word from English. It is キャット (kyatto) and is basically just the English word cat said with a Japanese accent. I suppose you can always use this last word if you forget the others!

What Are The Sounds Cats Make?

In English, we like to give each animal a different sound that they make. For cats, it’s “meow” or something similar depending on the mood of the cat.

They also give sounds to animals in Japanese, but the one for cat is a little different. It is にゃんにゃん (nyan nyan) or any slight variation of that.

Once you know this word, you will start to notice that anytime a “cat character” talks in an anime, they will typically work this cat mew into their speech.

For example, instead of saying 何 (nani) they will probably say にゃに (nyani) for “what” in Japanese.

Keep an ear out for it the next time you watch anime.

How To Say I Own A Cat In Japanese

To be honest, I’m not sure that anyone can “own a cat” since they pretty much act like they are the masters in the relationship!

But at any rate, when you want to let people know that you have a cat in Japanese you have to use a specific verb for it.

In this case, the verb is 飼う (kau) which means “to keep a pet” or “to rear an animal” and the like.

  • 30匹の猫を飼っていた女性
  • san juppiki no neko o katte ita josei
  • a woman who owned 30 cats

(nhk.or.jp)

This same kanji will sometimes be combined with the word for cat in order to create the word 飼い猫 (kai neko) which simply refers to a pet cat.

The opposite of which is a 野良猫 (nora neko) which is a stray cat.

What Is The Cat Culture In Japan?

The Japanese seem to be larger than life when it comes to a lot of things. Cats aren’t just a typical pet in the country, but also have a lot of presence in the culture.

For example, there are shrines and temples dedicated to cats in Japan!

There are also several islands that have been overrun by cats, and now people can visit the island in order to see cats running around and living everywhere that the humans abandoned.

Of course people who watch anime or read manga know that there are tons of “cat girls” which are basically cute girls with cat ears and a tails.

There’s even an anime called Cat Planet Cuties about some alien cat girls that come down to Earth and live with the protagonist.

Also, when you walk into a Japanese shop there is a very good chance that you will see a statue of a cat waving its paw at you. These are typically white with a big gold coin in its other paw, but there are other colors that are sometimes used.

This is known as a 招き猫 (maneki neko) or an “inviting cat” which is said ot bring good luck and fortune to the person who owns it.

Plus, there are lots of “cat cafes” in Japan where you can go into the store and pet or play with tons of different cats!

In other words, cats are all over the place in Japan and if you love those little guys and gals, then you just might be in the perfect place the next time you visit the country!

Do You Own A Cat?

That’s all for today’s post on cats in Japanese. You now know how to talk about the different type of cats in Japanese and how to tell people that you own one.

Do you have a cat? What kind of cat is it?

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment down below. Thanks for reading!

6 Comments

  • 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.

  • 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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