Top 10 Japanese phrases that use the word “cat”21 April 2021
In Japan, cats are related to Japanese people’s beliefs. They mostly believe that cats can foresee natural disasters, the latter being creatures of revenge, out to kill humans. Therefore, some great Japanese expressions use “Neko” (猫), translating to “cat”. Let’s learn together the top 10 catty Japanese phrases. You’ll fall even more in love with Japan… and cats!
Cats in Japanese culture
Indeed, cats have been an obsession since the first cats were brought to Japan by ship from China during the mid-sixth century. They’ve been inspiring Japanese artists and writers from one generation to the next. Here are 2 main things that the Japanese believe the following:
Protection and good fortune
Centuries ago, a feudal lord was standing under a tree and noticed a cat waving at him with its paw. After he approached the cat, a lightning bolt hit the tree where he had been standing. From that moment, a legend was born, and from there on out, the cat was called “Maneki-neko” which has inspired statues and likenesses worldwide.
You’ll often see the maneki-neko as a model in storefronts and restaurants. This will provide promising blessings and good fortune to its owners and all who enter.
Cute and cuddly
Cats have inspired Japanese people to invent cartoon cats. Plus, nothing is cuter than cartoon cat characters: Hello Kitty and Friends, Doraemon, and Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service. They are all famous around the world.
Top 10 catty Japanese phrases
Here are our top 10 cat words that will make you laugh or smile:
1. Nekojita 猫舌
Nekojita means cat tongue and inability to take hot food/drink. This word describes someone who can’t handle hot food or drinks. Some believe that this word was created due to cats themselves disliking hot things in general. Thus, anyone you see blowing incessantly on their drink or food or waits an inordinate amount of time before drinking or eating likely has a nekojita.
2. Nekoza 猫背
Nekoza can be translated to cat-back. Another meaning is bent back, hunchback, or stoop. Someone who is suffering from kyphosis can be described in Japanese as “He/she has a cat-back.” as his/her back was curved like a cat in “fight or flight” mode.
3. Nekoguruma 猫車
Nekoguruma means cat car/cat wheel and wheelbarrow. That said, nowadays the expression “wheelbarrow” is often replaced by 手押し車 (teoshiguruma) and 一輪車 (ichirinsha) which are generally used instead. The etymology of nekoguruma also originates from cats’ abilities to easily fit and weave through narrow spaces, similar to a wheelbarrow. Also once a wheelbarrow moves along the rough ground, it kind of sounds like a cat purring!
4. Nekozame 猫鮫
Nekozame can be referred to as catshark or Japanese bullhead shark. These meanings are quite interesting as two different cultures look at the same animal, yet both see a different defining feature. When it came time to name the Japanese bullhead shark in English, they focused on the round bull-like head of this shark and appropriately named it a Japanese bullhead shark. On the other hand, Japanese people noticed the shark’s ears protruding from the top of its head and called it the “catshark”.
5. Nekomusume 猫娘
Nekomusume means cat girl and a character who looks/acts like a cat. Surprisingly, the first apparent usage of this word was in a picture book from the 1800s. Nekomusume was used for a girl who had the strange habit of licking people. More conventionally, it describes a girl who looks and acts like a cat. Furthermore, various manga and anime have used this character trope.
6. Nekobaba 猫糞
Nekoboba can be translated to cat feces. Another meaning is embezzlement, misappropriation, pocketing, or stealing. This word was created after most cats have a funny habit of burying their business after they’ve used the litter box. It is used in Japanese sentences. For example, ネコババ職員はいつかはバレて職を失う。means clerks with sticky fingers won’t keep their jobs for long.
7. Nekodamashi 猫騙し
Nekodamashi means deceiving a cat and slapping hands in front of the opponent’s face to confuse him/her. The modern use of nekodamashi is a name for a sumo technique. The technique goes like this; one wrestler slaps his hands loudly in the other wrestler’s face in order to cause him to blink. This diversion, if done properly, would give the slapping wrestler a brief window to act. Similarly, slapping your hands in front of a cat certainly gets the same reaction. Finally, it is also the name of the attack “Fake Out” in the Pokémon games starting from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald.
8. Neko ni koban 猫に小判
Neko ni koban refers to giving money/gold coins to a cat or pearls before swine. This Japanese word has a similar saying in English “pearls before swine”. In both languages, it carries two meanings:
- Giving a gift to someone who can’t appreciate it.
- Pursuing an objective without completely comprehending it.
The phrase was created as most cats loved to play with the Japanese gold coins (koban) even though they had no idea how much their toy was worth.
9. Nekokaburi 猫かぶり
Nekokaburi means cat cover/veil. Another meaning is feigned innocence/naiveté, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Cats look innocent when they are obviously guilty after breaking something in the house for example. Another equivalent expression is putting on a “cat veil”, meaning you look like an innocent person, but we all know you’re just the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
10. Koukishin neko wo korosu 好奇心猫を殺す
Koukishin neko wo korosu translate to curiosity killed the cat. This phrase is actually a direct translation of the English saying that is currently used in Japanese. Furthermore, this proverb is used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. It also indicates that being curious can sometimes lead to danger or misfortune.
Next time, try using one of these cat phrases with your friends and explain them like a pro. They will love it!