Japans National Cat Day (猫の日 Neko no Hi)
If you love cats today is for you !
Cat Day in Japan is also known as “Nyan Nyan Nyan Day”. “Nyan” is the Japanese equivalent of “meow”, the noise made by cats, and “ni” is the Japanese word for number two. February 22 (written 22/2) is pronounced “ni ni ni”, which apparently resembles “nyan nyan nyan”.
Let’s talk about Japan’s favourite cat the “calico cat”. In Japanese culture, calico cats are symbols of good fortune and are believed to bring prosperity. According to Japanese folklore, a calico cat is a symbol of the goddess of mercy, who is said to bring good fortune to those who take care of her. Calico cats have a unique tri-color pattern, thought of as being typically 25% to 75% white with large orange and black patches. Calico refers to a colour or pattern of a cat’s fur it is not a breed. They are almost exclusively female except under rare genetic conditions. A cat needs two X chromosomes to present with the tri-color calico pattern. If a cat has an XX pair of chromosomes, it will be female. Male cats have an XY chromosome pair, so they can rarely be calicos. There’s less than a 0.1% chance of a calico cat being born male which mean’s approximately only one in 3,000 calicos are male. Did you know calico cats were first documented in the early 1700s in England, where they were considered a symbol of good luck.
You will probably know the Maneki Neko 招き猫 a traditional Japanese cat talisman based on a calico Japanese bobtail thought to bring good fortune and wealth. It originated in the Gotokuji temple in Tokyo. There, a priest named Hojo Tokiyor adopted a friendly stray cat. One day she raised her paw to beckon him to come over to her. As he moved a lightening bolt struck where he was standing saving his life. Grateful for the cat’s warning, the priest became convinced that it was a lucky and divine animal. When the cat eventually died, the priest created a statue with one paw raised in honor of her. He placed the figurine in front of the temple and it soon became a symbol of good fortune and protection from misfortune. If you now visit Gotokuji temple in Setagaya ward you will see hundreds of Maneki Neko.
Cats are also viewed by Buddhist monks as mindful and spiritual beings having calm, observant, and restful zen like qualities.
The Maneki Neko is almost always calico. This lucky talisman is common in businesses and homes throughout Japan. Maneki Neko, also known as the “beckoning cat” Maneki” means “beckoning” or “inviting” in Japanese, while “neko” means “cat.” If the Maneki Neko has a raised right paw she bestows good luck and wealth to who owns her, If the left paw is up, the cat brings in customers and good fortune.
In Japanese culture the welcoming gesture represent the importance of hospitality, kindness, and happiness. Nowadays, people all over the world love having the Maneki Neko as a decoration, often placed somewhere prominent. Place near the entrance or facing a doorway it is believed to attract good fortune into a home, shop, or other business to bring good luck and attract good things.
You may see Maneki Neko figures in other colours as well as the calico, white cats are generally believed to bring happiness, purity, and positive things to come, while gold cats promise wealth and prosperity. There are also regional ones in Kyoto it is said people favour black cats for their shops while those in Tokyo feel that black is unlucky.
You may see figures with a large gold coin. This can be traced back to one specific cat at Eko-In Temple in Tokyo. A tombstone was erected to a cat believed to have delivered gold coins to a fishmonger left unable to work due to illness.
One things for certain Japan sure do love cats! Japanese people don’t have much extra space for pets. So having a cat is the perfect choice. You will see cats all over Japan from Hello Kitty, Cat Bus & Pokémon.
I have spoken about Yanaka in previous blogs a Shitamachi old quaint neighbourhood known for its cats. There are also many stores selling cat themed items and seven lucky cat statues hidden in the area for you to search for.
There is even a street named Cat Street in Tokyo. A pedestrianised street running between Harajuku and Shibuya. The street is full of fashion boutiques and was actually named an alley for cool cats who aspire to strut the catwalk. Even though cat street has nothing to do with cats the sign has a cat on it.
Cats are popular even in fashion in Japan, fitting in with the whole kawaii culture perfectly.
Just recently a new cat appeared on a giant curved LED shinjuku 3D billboard which gained popularity. billboard opposite Shinjuku Station’s east exit is where you’ll find the larger-than-life calico cat who sleeps, wakes up and stares at passing pedestrians. This was Tokyo’s first 3D billboard and features a curved LED screen that can display 4K images and play sounds. So when the cat meows, swats at passersby, jumps, plays or naps, it feels like she’s really a giant cat living on top of a building.
I wanted to introduce to you an artist by the name of Toshinori Mori whose art I have in my own home and was so happy to finally meet him on my last trip to Japan.
He was born in Mitoyo City, Kagawa Prefecture and now lives in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. Inspired by beautiful Japanese landscape and his love tofor cats, he created a series of illustrations named ”Tabineko” (たびねこ), which means cat goes on a trip, or traveling cat. The series features a calico and black cat who travel through various places, like city streets or country lanes.
Toshinori is also fascinated by the seasons, which are constantly changing in the Japanese landscape and you can notice this on each illustration. Tabineko” illustration series, which is modeled on his 10-year-old cat and an outside cat coming to the garden.
I can really feel Japan in his art. The travelling cats are drawn with gentle colours and simple touches against the background of the four seasons of Japan. Needless to say nearly every room has one of his prints in my house.
You can follow Toshinori Mori on Instagram and some of his beautiful works are available for purchase as postcards and prints on Etsy.
This year I decided to make calico cat faced onigiri to celebrate Japans National Cat Day (猫の日 Neko no Hi.) I coloured the rice with tamari and used nori for the face features.
It was so easy to make the bento by using the Neko Kao Onigiri Set from Bento & Co.
Bento & Co have a gorgeous store in Kyoto which opened in March 2012.
They sell not only an extensive range of bento boxes but everything you need to create all things bento. From kitchen tools to cookware and bento accessories like furoshiki and lunch bags.
If you’re not going to be visiting Kyoto any time soon fear not because Bento & Co have a website and deliver world wide with fast shipping. And if you would like to order from www.enbento&co.com you can use this exclusive code TOKYOPONY to receive $10 off your first order. Let’s get planning all those hanami picnics we will be having come spring.
If you love cats why not celebrate with something cat themed today.