Japanese Idiomatic Expressions Featuring Cats

Sadao Mazuka wrote to us from Japan about Japanese idiomatic expressions about cats.  Here’s his email:

Hi Lisa,

I was very much interested in your blog post, “Animal Names used as Terms of Endearment” that was written by Monique.

I don’t think we have any phrases about a child or spouse with a connection like “honey + animal” [i.e. honey-bear] or “sugar+animal” [i.e. sugar-bear]. I mean there is no term of endearment adding some kind of animal strictly speaking. But sometimes we say that my child is lovely like a kitty, a kid or a cat. If it is connected to some animals, it doesn’t always express a good meaning as in the expression, “He is crying like a chicken.” This will express someone who’s very noisy.  Though the next expression, you will feel is funny.  “He is walking like a penguin.” This is used in the world generally.

Only for “cat” do we have many idiomatic expressions and proverbs as follows:

1. 猫かわいがり (Neko-kawaigari = loving like a cat)

(Japanese) He dotes on his grand-daughter like a kitty.  (English meaning) He simply dotes on his only grandchild.

2. この子は今日は借りてきた猫のようだ (Kono-ko wa kyou-wa karite kita neko-no youda)

(Japanese) This child is as gentle as a cat that’s kept from someone. = (English) This child is as gentle as a lamb.

CastingKoban3. それじゃ猫に小判だ (Soreja neko-ni koban da)

(Japanese) It is like casting a koban before a cat. = (English) It is like casting pearls before swine. (Koban; refers to an oval gold coin used in the Edo-period.)

4. 通りには猫の子一匹もいなかった (Tohri-niwa neko-no-ko ippiki inakatta)

(Japanese): Not a cat was seen on the street. = (English): Not a soul was seen on the street.

5. 猫の手も借りたいくらいだ (Neko-no te-mo karitai kurai-da)

(Japanese) We are so busy we’ll take any hands of cats for help. (English) We are so busy we’ll take any help we can get.

6. 猫の額 (Neko-no hitai = Cat’s forehead)

Expression about a tiny little space, room, or ground.

7. 猫被り(Neko-kaburi);Make one’s face like a kitty.

English ; a put-on; fake modesty; feigned ignorance.

Example of English sentence;Her gentle manner at the interview was just a put-on.

8. 猫舌(Neko-jita = Cat’s tongue)

English sentence;I can’t eat food that’s too hot.  (or) My tongue cannot take anything too hot.

GreenBristlegrass9. 猫じゃらし (Neko-jarashi = Cat’s toy or Cat’s pet)

English;≪grass≫ a foxtail or green bristlegrass.

10. 猫なで声 (Neko-nade goe = Gentle talk while petting a cat.)

(English): an ingratiating voice, or a coaxing voice.

Example of English sentence: I was deceived by her oily tone [wheedling tone].

And we have many expressions concerning the word “dog”, “monkey”, etc.

These are all used in conversation, not in literary or technical terms.

I attached some pictures; Casting Koban is from a free illustration site and the Green Bristlegrass is from  Wikipedia.

All of the examples of Japanese words can be found in the dictionary; PAROGRESSIVE Japanese-English Dictionary the 3rd edition (Shogakukan Co. Ltd).

With regards,


Thanks so much for sharing these expressions with us Sadao!  They’re interesting to learn!

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2014 at 11:24 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Idiomatic Expressions, Idiomatic Expressions with Cats, Japan, Japanese, Languages, Words & Phrases. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “Japanese Idiomatic Expressions Featuring Cats”

  1. Timothy Herrig Says:

    An old co-worker made the following comment on one of my Facebook posts:

    Translated as: If the music isn’t like the cat

    Any more elaboration appreciated. Cheers.

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