japanese kanji for cats

What Is The Japanese Kanji For Cat? 

Jun 05, 2024Shopify API

The Japanese kanji for cat is 猫. Read on to find out more about Japanese kanji for cat. Check it out!

Japanese culture is rich with symbolism, and the Japanese writing system, particularly Kanji, plays a crucial role in expressing profound meanings and emotions. 

One of the most intriguing characters in Kanji is the symbol for "cat" (猫), which not only represents a beloved creature but also carries a deeper cultural significance. 

In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of the Japanese Kanji for "cat" to understand its origin, evolution, and cultural connotations.

Japanese Kanji For Cat

The Japanese Kanji for "cat" is 猫. 

Let's break down the Japanese Kanji for "cat" (猫) and explore its components:

  • Radical: The character 猫 includes the radical 犭 (read as "ken" or "inu"), which represents animals or beasts. This radical often appears in Kanji related to animals.
  • Phonetic Component: The second part of the Kanji for "cat" is 妾 (read as "shou" or "kumori"), which originally meant "concubine" or "mistress" in Chinese. As a phonetic component, it contributes to the pronunciation of the entire Kanji.

Combining these two components, 猫 (neko) is formed, and it is used exclusively to represent the concept of a "cat" in the Japanese language.

The choice of the 妾 (shou) component in the Kanji for "cat" may seem unusual at first, but it has historical significance. 

In ancient Chinese culture, cats were regarded with mystical qualities, and they were believed to have the ability to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. 

The character 妾 was selected because its pronunciation, "shou," was similar to the sound of a cat's "meow." This choice adds a layer of cultural context and linguistic playfulness to the Kanji for "cat."

In modern Japanese, the Kanji 猫 (neko) is commonly used to write the word "cat." It is also important to note that in the Japanese writing system, there are multiple scripts, and Kanji is just one of them. 

The word "cat" can also be written in the Hiragana script as ねこ or in the Katakana script as ネコ, especially for foreign loanwords.

The Japanese Kanji for "cat" remains an essential symbol in the country's culture, often associated with good fortune, prosperity, and charm. 

Moreover, the love and admiration for cats extend beyond the written character, as cats hold a special place in the hearts of many Japanese people and continue to be cherished as beloved companions.

Historical Context For Japanese Kanji 猫

Kanji, derived from Chinese characters, has been an integral part of the Japanese writing system for over a millennium. Introduced to Japan around the 5th century, Kanji served as a means to transcribe Chinese texts. 

Over time, the Japanese integrated Kanji into their own language, developing unique readings and meanings for some characters.

Origins of the Kanji for "Cat" 猫

The Kanji for "cat" (猫) consists of two components: 犭 (ken) and 妾 (shou). The first component, 犭, signifies a radical associated with animals or beasts. The second component, 妾, originally meant "concubine" or "mistress" in Chinese.

The choice of this second component may appear puzzling, but it offers a fascinating insight into the cultural context.

Historical Development Of 猫

The association of the 妾 (shou) component with the Kanji for "cat" can be traced back to ancient Chinese beliefs and linguistic playfulness. 

In ancient China, cats were considered mysterious and enigmatic creatures with supernatural qualities.

They were believed to possess the power to protect their owners from evil spirits and bring good luck.

As a phonetic component, 妾 (shou) was selected for the Kanji for "cat" primarily for its pronunciation, which sounded similar to the meow of a cat. 

This playful phonetic association added an element of wordplay to the character, linking the concept of a "cat" with a sound that evoked the animal's vocalization.

Over time, as Kanji made its way to Japan, it underwent further adaptations and transformations. 

The Japanese language has its own phonetic and lexical nuances, leading to the development of unique readings and meanings for some Kanji characters.

In Japan, the Kanji for "cat" (猫) has retained the components 犭 (ken) and 妾 (shou), maintaining the historical connection to ancient Chinese beliefs while incorporating the Kanji into the Japanese writing system.

It is essential to appreciate the cultural significance behind the Kanji for "cat," as it represents the melding of ancient beliefs and linguistic ingenuity, adding to the allure of the Japanese writing system and its connection to Japan's love and admiration for these enigmatic feline creatures.

The Ancient Chinese Belief

In ancient Chinese culture, cats were seen as mysterious creatures with strong spiritual significance. Cats were believed to have the ability to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to their owners.

The character 妾 was chosen as part of the "cat" Kanji to reflect this belief. It is said that 妾, pronounced "shou," was used because the sound was similar to the Chinese word for "meow."

The Cultural Symbolism of Cats in Japan

As Kanji evolved in Japan, the cultural symbolism of cats took on new meanings. Cats began to be associated with luck, fortune, and prosperity. 

The image of a cat with an upright paw, known as "Maneki-neko" or "beckoning cat," became a popular talisman in Japanese culture, particularly in businesses and homes, believed to attract prosperity and good fortune.

Additionally, cats were associated with female sensibilities and grace, leading to the adoption of the Kanji 妾 (shou) in the character for "cat." 

The Kanji 猫 (cat) thus embodies a blend of historical beliefs and cultural influences that have shaped Japan's fascination with these enigmatic felines.

Cat Idioms and Expressions in Japan

Cats have also influenced the Japanese language, giving rise to a variety of idioms and expressions. 

For instance, "猫舌" (nekojita), meaning "cat's tongue," refers to someone who is sensitive to hot food or drinks. 

Another idiom, "猫の手も借りたい" (neko no te mo karitai), translates to "even a cat's paw is welcome" and conveys the idea of being extremely busy and needing any available help.

Modern-Day Significance

In contemporary Japan, the love for cats remains strong. From anime and manga to social media, cats are celebrated as adorable companions and continue to captivate people worldwide. 

The Kanji for "cat" remains a beloved symbol, embodying not only the cultural reverence for cats but also the essence of Japan's unique writing system.

Sentence Examples For Kanji “cat" (猫)

Here are ten sentence examples using the Japanese Kanji 猫 (neko) for "cat":

  • 窓辺に猫が寝そべっている。
    (Madowe ni neko ga nesobetteiru.)
    Translation: The cat is lying down by the window.
  • 猫は夜になると活発になることがよく知られています。
    (Neko wa yoru ni naru to kappatsu ni naru koto ga yoku shirareteimasu.)
    Translation: Cats are well-known for becoming active at night.
  • この町では猫が自由に歩き回っています。
    (Kono machi de wa neko ga jiyuu ni arukimawatteimasu.)
    Translation: Cats roam freely in this town.
  • 彼女は小さな猫を抱いています。
    (Kanojo wa chiisana neko o daiteimasu.)
    Translation: She is holding a small cat.
  • その猫は毛並みが美しいですね。
    (Sono neko wa kenamami ga utsukushii desu ne.)
    Translation: The cat has a beautiful coat, doesn't it?
  • 猫の目は暗闇でも見えるように進化しています。
    (Neko no me wa kurayami demo mieru you ni shinka shiteimasu.)
    Translation: Cat's eyes have evolved to see in the dark.
  • 猫が魚の形をしたおもちゃを追いかけています。
    (Neko ga sakana no katachi o shita omocha o oikaketeimasu.)
    Translation: The cat is chasing a toy shaped like a fish.
  • あの家の周りにはいつも猫が集まってきます。
    (Ano ie no mawari ni wa itsumo neko ga atsumatte kimasu.)
    Translation: Cats always gather around that house.
  • 猫は高いところが好きです。
    (Neko wa takai tokoro ga sukidesu.)
    Translation: Cats like high places.
  • 猫との触れ合いは心を穏やかにしてくれます。
    (Neko to no fureau wa kokoro o odayaka ni shite kuremasu.)
    Translation: Interacting with cats can soothe the heart.

These sentences showcase different contexts in which the Kanji 猫 (neko) can be used to refer to "cat" in the Japanese language.

Cats are often admired for their playful nature, charm, and independent spirits, and they hold a special place in Japanese culture and everyday life.


The Japanese Kanji for "cat" (猫) is a captivating fusion of ancient Chinese beliefs, cultural symbolism, and linguistic evolution. 

The selection of the Kanji components reflects a deep-rooted reverence for these mysterious creatures and their association with prosperity and grace. 

Today, cats continue to be cherished in Japanese society, and the Kanji for "cat" stands as a lasting testament to their enduring significance in Japanese culture.

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