Japanese

Japanese words and idioms related to cat!

Cats are the best animal in the world.

Everyone loves cats. They are cute, sweet, and make us feel warm and fuzzy.

As almost all languages have cat words and cat idioms, Japanese has many words and idioms which have “cat" ((ねこ)) in them, too.

Some of them are understandable out of the Japanese context, but some of them are based on Japanese cultural ideas for cats.

In this article, we are going to learn 7 cat words and cat idioms which Japanese natives are using in real life!

-Cat Words-ねこのつく言葉ことば

猫舌(ねこじた)(Neko-jita)

(ねこ) (Neko) means “cat” and (した)(jita) means “tongue.”  So, it means literally “cat’s tongue.”

But in Japanese, 猫舌(ねこじた) (Neko-jita) means a person who can’t handle eating hot food. In this word, it doesn't mean hot as in spiciness, but as high temperature.

Have you ever burned your tongue when you ate hot food? If your tongue hurts a lot when you have a hot meal, you are definitely 猫舌(ねこじた) (Neko-jita).

猫舌 (ねこじた) (Neko-jita) can be used for all hot food, but Japanese natives usually say it when they have liquid food, like a hot drink, hot soup, or stew. (It’s because it happens more when they have liquid food!)

Why is 猫舌(ねこじた) used for a person who can’t eat hot food?

It is simply because Japanese people have the idea that cats can’t eat hot food.

Have you ever watched Ghibli’s movie “魔女(まじょ)宅急便(たっきゅうびん) (Kiki’s delivery service)”? There is a scene where Jiji (Kiki’s cat) had hot food and he was surprised by its hotness. He couldn’t drink it. It is expressing the idea of 猫舌(ねこじた) (Nekojita).

猫舌(ねこじた)例文(れいぶん) -sentences-

Japanese

(わたし)猫舌(ねこした)だから(あつ)()(もの)苦手(にがて)なんだよね。

English

I don’t like to eat hot food because I have a cat tongue.

Japanese

トムは猫舌(ねこじた)だね!

English

Tom has a cat tongue.

猫背(ねこぜ)(Nekoze)

Many people may have gotten scolded by their parents when they had bad posture. They got scolded because they had 猫背 ねこぜ(Nekoze).

猫背(ねこぜ) means that your back is round like cats when you slouch over.

Literally, 猫背(ねこぜ) (Nekoze) is “cat’s back.” 背(ze) means back. (Japanese usually say 背中(せなか)(Senaka) for back.)

A cat’s back is usually round when they are sitting or sleeping. So, Japanese natives say 猫背(ねこぜ) for a person who’s back is round and your head is leaning to front.

猫背(ねこぜ)例文(れいぶん)-sentences-

Japanese

ほら、猫背(ねこぜ)になってるよ!姿勢(しせい)をよくして!

English

Hey, you've got a cat's back! Fix your posture!

Japanese

かれ猫背ねこぜだから、ひくえるね。本当ほんとうたかいのに。

English

He's got a cat's back so he looks shorter than he is. He's actually tall.

Justina
I often do this when I read a book or play video games!
I always slouch, I have to fix my posture.
Atsuya

(ねこ)()(Nekonome)

Next word is (ねこ)()(Nekonome). It literally means “cat’s eye.”

You might guess it means something cute or big when you hear that.

But this is often used as a metaphor to mean something that quickly changes. Cat’s pupils change quickly from big to small depending on the light, so it’s used to describe people’s quick-changing decisions or mood.

When you want to use this word, you say it with みたいに(mitaini)orのように(noyouni) after (ねこ)().

(ねこ)()例文(れいぶん)-For example-

Japanese

あの気持きもちはねこみたいにすぐ変わるよ。

English

Her feelings change as quickly as a cat’s eye.

In this case, we can use this to mean a girl/boy who changes her/his opinion on something easily. For example, she/he might want to go to one restaurant, but then immediately change her/his mind right after.

We can also use (ねこ)() (Nekonome) in this way.

Japanese

あのひとうことはねこみたいにわりやすい。

English

He changes what he means as easily as a cat’s eye.

This one might seem a little difficult to understand at first. You can use this for, say, your boss. He will tell you one thing, and after you do it, he will say right after, “Actually, that’s not what I wanted you to do.”

まねねこ (Manekineko)

(まね)(ねこ) is a lucky cat.

You see them in Japanese gift shops at sightseeing spots. They’re usually depicted as a cat sitting on its hind legs with a paw in the air.

(まね)(ねこ) has different colors and each color expresses different meanings!

Calico まねねこ is especially lucky, It expresses the calico まねねこ will bring you very good luck!

Black まねねこ has a meaning of strong magical charm. Black まねねこ protects you from evil spirits and bad luck.

Red まねねこ is especially lucky for your health.

Why is 猫 a symbol of luck in Japan?

For ancient Japanese, cats were a beneficial animal to people because they catch rats, which eat food, crops, and silkworms. There were many farmers that had been in the silk fabric business at that time in Japan.

There were many 大名 (Daimyo) and 将軍 (Shogun), like 豊臣秀吉 (Hideyoshi Toyotomi) who had cats as their pet, too.

One story got famous in the Edo era.

A Daimyo, 井伊直孝 (Naotaka Ii) saw a cat beckoning him in front of a gate of Gotoku temple (豪徳寺). When he went into the temple and took a rest with the cat, it started to rain heavily and thunder cracked loudly.

He thought the cat helped him escape from the lightning and the bad weather and he really appreciated it. The monks also welcomed him even though he came so suddenly. After that, the Daimyo donated money for the temple because of the cat.

(ねこ)のつく慣用句(かんようく)-Cat idioms-

ねこりたい(Nekonotemo-karitai)

The most common Japanese cat idiom is (ねこ)()()りたい (Nekonotemo-karitai). It literally means, “I want to borrow a cat’s paw.” This idiom actually came up in a text I (Justina) translated for a game! 

You use it when you’re so busy, you’d even ask a cat to help you with work.

(ねこ)()()りたいの例文(れいぶん)For example:  

Japanese

今日きょうはおきゃくさんがたくさんきてくれたから、ねこりたいくらいいそがしいよ。

English

Today, so many customers came in, so I was so busy I even wanted to ask a cat for a hand.

Japanese

はぁ… いそがしすぎてねこりたいね。

English

*sigh* I’m so busy that I even want to ask a cat for help.

In these situations, you’re so busy with work, even just a little help, such as from a cat, would make you feel better!

(ねこ)小判(こばん)(Nekoni-koban)

Another idiom we have is (ねこ)小判(こばん)

It literally means “A coin for a cat.” A “koban” is one of those ancient Japanese coins. You may have seen it on the Pokémon meowth’s head!

This idiom is used for situations when you give a present for someone. If you give a present for someone who won’t understand its use or worth, it’s a waste, just like giving a cat a coin. Cats don’t understand the concept of money!

ねこ小判こばん例文れいぶん -for example- 

Japanese

かれにそんな高いたかいワインをあげてもねこ小判こばんだよ!おさけならなんでもいいんだから。

English

It’s a waste if you give him such expensive wine! For him, it doesn’t matter how expensive it is.

In this situation, this man probably doesn’t understand the value of expensive wine, so if you give it to him, he won’t enjoy it to the fullest.

Japanese

彼女かのじょにそんなたかってもねこ小判こばんだよ。アートに興味きょうみないんだから。

English

If you give her such a high-quality painting, it’d be a waste. She doesn’t have any interest in art, after all.

This girl doesn’t have any interest in art, so she won’t recognize the painting’s full worth!

This idiom actually comes up in Japanese Pokémon games as a Pokémon move. This move is called “pay day” in English, but is called ねこ小判こばん in Japanese.

窮鼠(きゅうそ)(ねこ)()む(kyuso-neko-o-kamu)

窮鼠(きゅうそ) (kyu-so) means a cornered rat and ()む (kamu) means to bite.

It literally means a cornered rat bites a cat.  But it express that a weak person or team (a rat) sometimes fight back against a strong person or team (a cat) when they are driven into a corner.

Japanese usually use this idiom so they do not be careless when they are in a game or a competition.

窮鼠(きゅうそ)(ねこ)()むの例文(れいぶん) -for example-

Japanese

大差たいさってるからって油断ゆだんするなよ。窮鼠きゅうそねこむっていうからな。

English

Don’t be careless even if we have a big lead. It is said a cornered rat bites a cat.

Japanese

窮鼠きゅうそねこむから、かれおこらせないようにした方がいい。

English

You should not make him angry because a cornered rat bites a cat.

Cats are heavily connected to Japanese culture

Cats are heavily connected to Japanese culture. It is said that cats were imported from China into Japan 1300 years ago. In the Heian era (794~), cats got a reputation as a cute pet among Japanese royalty. Japanese people has been spending a lot of time with cats. They gave us happiness and comfort even in hard times.

Let's learn Japanese like cats! With curiosity and at your own pace.🐈

-Japanese
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