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Why Are Cats More Popular Pets in Japan Than Dogs? (Japanese Cat Lore)

When it comes to pet ownership in America, 70% of households are pet owners, with 69 million homes owning dogs and 45.3 million owning cats. That’s a lot of animals! But how does it compare to pet ownership in other countries? Dogs may be more popular in the States, but are they the most popular animal in other countries?

But it turns out that dogs aren’t the most popular everywhere. In Japan, for example, cats are the more popular pet. But why do the Japanese like felines more than canines? There are a few reasons that factor into why people in Japan own cats more often than dogs. Keep reading for a quick rundown!

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Japanese Cat Lore

Throughout history, Japan has had a bit of a love/hate relationship with cats, which makes it all the more interesting that these animals are the more popular pet nowadays.

While it’s hard to say exactly when cats appeared in Japan (or how they got there), the first mention of a feline seems to be in 889 CE when Emperor Uda wrote, “Taking a moment of my free time, I wish to express my joy of the cat.” And while felines started out being exchanged as treasured gifts, by the 12th century, these cats had multiplied enough to be widespread throughout Japan. And that’s when things got fun.

Like most countries, Japan has a rich history of folklore, and cats have played an enormous part in this. It was the 12th century when the first supernatural feline appeared in Japan—the nekomata, an extremely large, two-tailed cat that ate men (which, in reality, was most likely a tiger). It didn’t take long for the legends of the nekomata to die out, though, and it wasn’t until the Edo period of Japan’s history that supernatural cats became all the rage.

During this period, arts and culture truly flourished in the country—kabuki theater, ukiyoe, and the advent of the first printing presses in the country. The printing presses meant more reading material was available to more people, and the people of Japan were hungry for magical creatures. This was when the bakeneko appeared. These felines had the ability to shapeshift into humans, and while some tales of them had deadly ends where the bakeneka killed their owners and took their place, other stories simply told of these creatures having wild times at night with drink, games, and more.

There were also feline creatures that were much more frightening, too, like the kasha. This monstrous cat was one that became so overwhelmed with the need to eat corpses that it became a demon. They had powers of necromancy that could raise the dead and turn them into puppets, as well. The legend of the kasha has had a long-lasting influence on Japanese culture; to this day, felines are kept out of the room when the Japanese hold wakes.

Japan has had more supernatural cats throughout its history than this—some good and some evil—so you can see how complicated their relationship with felines has been.

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Image Credit: Wasuta23, Shutterstock

Why Are Cats Popular?

Since cats have been both revered and feared throughout Japan’s history, how did they end up as the most popular pet in the country? Well, there are a few reasons why.

The biggest reason more people own cats than dogs in the country is that cats require less work. In particular, cats don’t need daily walks. And it seems to be the younger generations that are less willing to deal with daily walks, as one survey found that 59.5% of dog owners in their seventies walked their dogs for 30 minutes at a time, while 65% of dog parents that were in their twenties walked their pets for much less than that. And even amongst dog owners, smaller dogs that require less exercise are more popular.

Another reason cats are more popular as pets? They’re easier to acquire. Japan is home to a plethora of stray cats, so getting one as a pet is as simple as walking outside. Dogs, though, typically must be purchased from a breeder or store.

Yet another possible reason may have to do with the declining birth rates in Japan and the aging population. There are more older people than younger in the country, and cats are much simpler pets to deal with when one ages.

Overall, it seems as if felines are more popular as pets due to the ease of caring for them as compared to canines.

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Final Thoughts

Cats have a long and fascinating history in Japan, particularly in Japanese folklore. Throughout the ages, these animals have been both revered and feared. These days, though, you’ll find that cats are more popular in Japan than dogs. Mostly due to being easier to care for. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues over the next few years!

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Featured Image Credit: FOTOGRIN, Shutterstock