How Many Japanese Have Cats?


Cats have long been popular pets and companions in Japan. While dogs were traditionally more common, cat ownership in Japan has been steadily rising over the past few decades. Surveys estimate that around 10-15% of Japanese households today have at least one pet cat.

Cats have a special place in Japanese culture and society. They are seen as symbols of good luck and fortune. Cat cafes, where people can interact with cats, have also become popular in cities across Japan.

With growing numbers of cats, there are rising concerns in Japan about cat overpopulation and stray cats. However, Japan also has a large market for cat products and care items. Overall, cats play an important role in daily life for many Japanese cat owners.

History of Cat Ownership in Japan

Cats were first introduced to Japan around the same time that Buddhism arrived in the country, likely in the middle of the 6th century. According to the Japan Web-Magazine article on cats in Japan,
it is said that the domestic cat first came to Japan in 538 or 552 AD when Buddhism was brought to Japan from Baekje (an ancient kingdom located in southwest Korea). The cats were likely brought over as a way to help control pests, especially mice, that could damage the scrolls and other items related to the Buddhist religion. So from early on, cats were seen as having an important functional role in Japanese society.

Cultural Significance of Cats

Cats have played an important role in Japanese culture and folklore throughout history. In Japanese mythology, cats were seen as magical creatures and were worshipped as deities. The maneki-neko, or “beckoning cat”, is a famous cat figurine that is believed to bring good luck and fortune. According to legend, a cat waved its paw and brought prosperity to a struggling temple. Today, maneki-neko statues can be found in many Japanese businesses.

Cats were also appreciated for their ability to catch mice and protect precious manuscripts or clothing from damage. As a result, cats became associated with scholarship. A cat called Tama was honored with the title of “station master” at a train station in Japan in recognition of its role in increasing tourism and bringing good fortune.

Overall, cats came to symbolize good luck, protection, fortune, and wisdom in Japanese culture. They were loved and respected for both practical and symbolic reasons. The role of cats remains an important part of Japanese history and tradition even today.

Cat Cafés

Cat cafés have become extremely popular in Japan over the past decade. These unique establishments allow customers to interact with cats while enjoying coffee, tea, and light snacks. According to Interac Network, there are now hundreds of cat cafés across Japan, with the first one opening in Osaka in 2004. Their popularity stems from the fact that many Japanese living in urban areas cannot keep pets at home due to strict apartment rules. Cat cafés give cat lovers a chance to unwind and play with furry felines in a relaxing cafe setting.

One of the most well-known cat cafés is Neko Cafe MoCHA in the trendy Shibuya district of Tokyo, praised for its beautiful interior design and friendly cats. Other popular chains like Calico and Temari no Oshiro have cafés in multiple cities across Japan. Wherever you go, cat cafés offer the special experience of sipping a beverage while petting adorable kitties. With Japan’s love of cuteness and coffee, it’s no surprise cat cafés are thriving.

Famous Cat Breeds

Some of the most popular and beloved cat breeds originated in Japan. Two cat breeds that stand out are the Japanese Bobtail and the Kurilian Bobtail.

The Japanese Bobtail is an ancient breed native to Japan. They are intelligent, active cats known for their bobbed, bunny-like tails. Japanese Bobtails make very devoted companions and adapt well to indoor living. They come in a wide variety of colors and patterns.

The Kurilian Bobtail is considered a national treasure of Japan. They originated on the Kuril Islands north of Japan. The breed is prized for its hunting skills and its ability to leave small animals like birds alone. Kurilian Bobtails have fluffy, bobbed tails and a social, affectionate personality. They come in many colors but are frequently white or black and white.

Cat Population Statistics

According to a 2022 survey by Euromonitor, only around 13% of households in Japan own a cat. This gives Japan one of the lowest rates of cat ownership in the world. By comparison, around 35% of households own a cat in the United States and around 25% do in the United Kingdom.

The precise number of pet cats in Japan is unknown, but estimates range from 6.2 million to 10 million. With approximately 53 million households in total in Japan, this suggests only around 1 in 5 households or fewer own a cat.

Cat ownership is lowest among younger generations in Japan. According to the Japan Pet Food Association, only 7.6% of Japanese people in their 20s owned a cat in 2021. This number rises to 11.4% for people in their 30s, and peaks at 20% for those in their 60s. Though the ratio of cat ownership increases with age, it remains relatively low across all demographics.

The reluctance of many Japanese to own cats likely stems from cultural perceptions and apartment living constraints. Historic traditions have favored dog ownership, while many apartments prohibit pets or charge high fees. Cats are also seen as more independent, aligning less with Japanese values of interdependence. However, cat cafés and growing interest amongst younger generations has boosted cat ownership rates slightly in recent years.


Cat Care Products Market

The pet care industry in Japan, including products and services for cats, has grown substantially over the past decade. According to Statista, the total retail value of the Japanese pet market reached 1.75 trillion yen (around $13.5 billion) in fiscal year 2022. This represents a decade-high peak for the industry.

Within the overall pet market, cat-related products and services account for a major segment. Japan is home to an estimated 9.5 million pet cats as of 2016, which fuels demand for cat food, litter, toys, grooming tools, veterinary care, and more. The market for cat litter alone is estimated at over 124 billion yen annually.

As cat ownership continues to rise in Japan, particularly among younger demographics, the cat care industry is projected to see sustained growth. Companies are innovating with new specialty cat food brands, tech-enabled products like automated litter boxes, and services catered specifically to cats.

Animal Welfare Laws

Japan’s main animal welfare law is the 1973 Act on Welfare and Management of Animals. This law makes it a crime to kill, injure, or inflict cruelty on animals, with fines up to 500,000 yen and up to 2 years imprisonment for violations 1. In 1999 and 2005, amendments were made to strengthen regulations on pet shops and breeders specifically.

In 2013, Japan made additional amendments to ban animal abuse, regulate pet breeders, and require government registration of dangerous dogs. However, the law still has exemptions allowing abuse for “justifiable scientific needs”, “proper breeding”, and “custodial safety” which have faced criticism from animal welfare groups.2

While largely focused on dogs historically, recent amendments have strengthened protections for cats as well. This includes mandatory sterilization and microchipping of abandoned cats prior to rehoming from shelters. Japan has also banned the declawing of cats, recognizing it as an inhumane procedure, with violators facing fines up to 2 million yen.

Feral Cat Population

Japan has a significant feral cat population, with estimates ranging widely. In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment estimated the feral cat population to be about 1 million, while other estimates have put it at 2-4 times that number.[1] Feral cats likely originated from pet cats that were abandoned or lost and then reproduced in the wild. They can be found living in cities, towns, and rural areas across Japan.

Some areas of Japan have become well-known for their large feral cat colonies, such as on Aoshima island where feral cats outnumber humans 6 to 1, and Tashirojima island which has over 100 feral cats.[2] The northern part of Okinawa island has had a significant feral cat population since the 1970s.[2]

Feral cats live outdoors and sustain themselves by hunting small prey. They form social colonies with complex hierarchies. While feral cats avoid humans, they live near human settlements to take advantage of food and shelter. Their large numbers can negatively impact native wildlife populations.


In conclusion, cats have long been an important part of Japanese culture and society. From being considered a guardian spirit to their popularity as pets, cats hold a special place in the hearts of many Japanese people.

The data shows that Japan has one of the highest rates of cat ownership in the world, with over 9 million cats kept as pets. Specialty cat-themed businesses like cat cafés have popped up to cater to enthusiastic cat lovers.

While traditionally Japanese cats were locally bred or mixed breeds, pedigreed cats are becoming more popular. Care and attitude towards cats has also evolved, with more premium cat food and products available.

Looking ahead, cat ownership in Japan will likely continue growing. However, issues like overpopulation and feral cats may need to be addressed with spay/neuter programs. As more Japanese come to see cats as family members rather than property, animal welfare laws may also strengthen.

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