Cats in Japan, Nekonomics is a record

cthey seduce, they conquer us, they enter our homes and our hearts and never leave. If the power of cats over the lives of Italians is objectively remarkable, you should take a trip in Japanor even just a dash between the data of what is being called Nekonomics: the economy that revolves around domestic felines.

Nekonomics, the mad passion for cats in Japan is a record

The Covid-19 pandemic has only fueled an already fat enough trend. And this despite the fact that the number of cats per capita in Japan is not disproportionate: in 2021 almost 9 million were surveyed (compared to 7.1 million dogs, a decreasing number, according to the Japan Pet Food Association). One for every 14 inhabitants. The disproportionate figure is the expense that the average Japanese allocates to each of those 9 million cats.

How much the Japanese spend on their cats

The emeritus professor of Kansai University Katsuhiro Miyamoto has quantified in 100,000 yen a year (about 756 euros) the expense for the care and maintenance of each cat, which therefore becomes 900 billion yen (about 6.7 billion euros) per year for all cats in Japan. To which must be added the veterinary expenses e all the business related to cats. From gadgets to books, from frequenting cat cafes (there are over 50 in Tokyo alone) to tourist trips that focus on the cat.

From cat cafés to cat islands

Even those who don’t have a pet at home often go to themed cafés and tourist places, such as land islands known for their concentration of big cats (Aoshimae and Tashirojima), just to take pictures and touch the cats. The total is the chilling figure of 14.6 billion euros (1.9 trillion yen). For comparison: 12.528 million dollars or 1.69 trillion yen were spent on organizing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In short, a little less than for cats.

In Japan both the Games and the cats were measured in terms of economic effectiveness (keizai kōka) for society. The expression Keizai kōka is used as an indicator of how much money a given phenomenon adds to a particular economy. According to Miyamoto the growing popularity of cats as pets and the resulting fascination with cats among the general population benefits the economy in ways that other phenomena, including the Olympics, do not.

The cat island of Aoshima, populated by an army of felines, about 14 per person. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Cats in Japan, the last frontiers of a mad passion

To add some icing on the cake, the 02/22/2022, aka Cat Day in Japan. The Japanese word for two, “ni,” sounds similar to a cat’s meow. Hence the choice of February 22 to celebrate it. But 2022 brought the total number of two in the date to six (“nyannyanyan”, sounds like a meow to all intents and purposes), exalting cat lovers from all over the country.

A small shining example of the phenomenon? THE cat diapers by Unicharm Corp. Sales in its pet care division increased 9% in the year to December 2021 compared to the prior 12-month period. In the brand’s range of articles, snacks with spoonto help owners feed their cats like… babies.

One of the frontiers particularly frequented by feline owners is that of deodorization. Thus, for example, the deodorant company STCorp entered the pet products business on this year’s Cat Day with the launch of a cat litter that includes a component extracted from Sakhalin fir .

In the study, Miyamoto lists a number of factors why the Japanese prefer big cats. Among them is the fact that more and more people are moving into overcrowded urban apartments, where dogs are often not allowed. But the Japanese passion for cats has very, very ancient roots.

The history of cats in Japan

It seems that the cat has arrived to Japan from China, almost certainly around the year 538 AD together with Buddhism. The monks welcomed them into their temples for keep manuscripts safe from mice. Among his roles in Japanese society there is therefore that of hunter, useful for protecting fabrics, manuscripts and even fishing nets from rodents. Thus were also born the so-called cat islands like Aoshimae, now populated by a veritable army of cats. Specially brought in to deal with the mice that gnawed at the nets, they multiplied and are now the main local tourist attraction. A source of income that is worth much more than fishing.

Protagonist of poems, drawings on silk and rolls of paper, sculptures and legends of all kinds, over time the cat has in fact come out of Buddhist temples and its role as a mouse-hunter to enter every home and every commercial establishment, recalling luck, money and health. The famous Maneki Neko, the famous figurine depicts a cat with one paw raised, is a symbol of Japan in this sense. And all over the world.