Things I don’t understand about Japan: Why are there cats everywhere?

I used to like cats. But then I got addicted to the internet, so now I just think that cats are jerks. Every day, when I get on Facebook, I’m assaulted by pictures of cats frowning, knocking things off of shelves for no good, and sitting in boxes. I’m used to that. Cats on the internet don’t scare me.

But then I moved to Tokyo.

When I got to campus, while I was unpacking, one of my new friends warned me that there were cats all over. She said ICU’s (International Christian University) ironic nickname was Insane Cats United because there are cats everywhere. I rolled my eyes and continued unpacking.

And then I went outside.

Cats on ICU campus

Sure enough, there were cats everywhere. They sit on the road (and refuse to move, even when you drive toward them), they take up entire benches, the run in front of your bike, and they stare at you with that “why are you approaching me, you worthless human” look.

I even found one sitting in the basket for my bike once. It was this fat, orange, furry thing just smugly sitting there. I was too scared to do anything (it’s technically a wild cat, you know), so I just left my bike and walked over to a friend’s dorm.

A couple hours later, when I re-visited my bike, the cat was gone. I biked home in shame.

Joking aside, I see cats everywhere I go. They’re always sitting on my neighbor’s stone walls, crawling in the bushes behind my apartment, or looking at me through me window – meowing and judging me.

Cat on International Christian University Campus Canada House

Why I don’t understand it: Tokyo is a city. A huge, metropolitan city. Before I got to Tokyo, I just kind of assumed that the only living creatures (aside from people) that can survive in huge cities like Tokyo are crows.

But there aren’t very many crows in Tokyo. Instead there are cats.

Why I kind of do understand it: Cats are cute. I think they are jerks, but I still love to pet, play with, look at, and take pictures of them. And I don’t even mind when my friends show me pictures and videos of their cats (to an extent).

Japanese domestic kitten

I live in a fairly nice residential neighborhood near a somewhat large college campus. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my neighbors fed all the feral cats. I know students on campus feed the cats.

Feral cats are cuter (and less annoying) than wild crows. Cats can pretend to like you and cuddle up to you for food. They’ve learned how to manipulate humans; trading love for food. Japanese people tend to like cute things. Heck, they even have cat cafés here – cafés where you pay to play with adorable, furry cats. You can sip a latte and rub a cat’s tummy at the same time.

So why pay for something you can get for free at home? If you want cats to stalk you, just leave a bowl of fish, food, or treats outside your back door. That should do the trick.

Wild cats on ICU campus

Final thoughts: I don’t hate cats. I kind of like cats. If you have a cat, and if I ever meet your cat, I will probably like it. But I guarantee you think that your cat is a lot cuter than it really is.

Sorry. It’s the truth.

I don’t mind if you send me pictures of your cats “doing silly things.” But if you send me pictures of your cats more than once a week, after a while I’m going to block your email. Ok, I won’t block you. But I will stop reading your emails if you include something like “Look how cute my cat is!” in the subject line.

A Japanese cat

Only exception: my friend’s really furry cat, Lucky. I love Lucky.

If I wanted to see a cat, I would – you know – go outside. Walk around anywhere in Tokyo. Look outside my window.

The orange cat is still sitting there, judging me.

For other “Things I don’t Understand About Japan” posts, check out:

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

18 Comments on Things I don’t understand about Japan: Why are there cats everywhere?

  1. I brought a cat I made particularly good friends with back with me to the U.S.

  2. One of the issues is that Japanese people are less likely to spay or neuter their cats. Animals are also considered to be a possession rather than a member of the family (though it is changing, slowly) and many people don’t take the responsibility seriously. Most cities will just let the cats wander around and breed, but those that don’t can kill well over 100,000 a year. It’s pretty depressing when you look into it.

  3. Maybe they’ll learn to take the subway like dogs in Russia. In any case, these feral kitties are probably being fed by someone, so they stick around. It’s the process of domestication all over again. Honestly, I’d rather have cats than pigeons. At least cats don’t poop on you from above.

  4. I know what you mean, the strays are really mean and scary sometimes >.< but Japan doesn't have animal shelters like America. Thank goodness its not packs of wild dogs…

    • Oh my gosh, I know what you mean. I don’t know what I would do if there were packs of stray dogs…
      There would be so scary…

    • >Japan doesn’t have animal shelters

      Sorry to contradict again…but there are animal shelters in Japan.
      And I’ve never heard anyone say that the cats around Japan are “mean and scary” before!

      Cats congregate were they are regularly fed.
      That’s why cats can be seen near home of old people (who have time to feed them) and also around most temples / shrines in Japan because the monks / priests feed them.

      • The context was “Japan doesn’t have animal shelters like America” meaning America has 100xs more than Japan so this kind of stray cat is not common :D My in-laws house is next to 15 stray cats whose neighbors feed them and their quite mean and hiss when I just walk past them to my door. Everyone has the right to their own opinion….

        • I:ve noticed there aren’t lots of animal shelters in Japan. It was kind of surprising…
          I wish Japan had more shelters – I want to adopt a cat or dog!

        • I would be nice if Japan had more shelters; cats and dogs in Japan are really expensive (or at least from pet shops)

      • Sorry, I think the cats are cute – and I totally understand why they hang around campus. Most of my friends feed them. Sometimes they can get a bit overwhelming, though…

  5. By the way … check my blog:

  6. There are many many crows in Tokyo!
    And they’re huge!

    You can see “crow traps” in parts of Tokyo.

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