Cats sleep on a street sign in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district. (Itsuo Inouye — Associated Press)
Everybody likes cats (note: if you don’t like cats, click here to read something else), but the furry pets are especially popular in Japan. And not just because Japanese people own a lot of cats, although they do: about 10 million, one of the highest per capita rates in the world.
Japanese people go to cat-filled theme cafes, of which there were at least 79 when the trend began three years ago; design cat-friendly houses; maintain a tourist-friendly, cat-dominated island; pass cat-oriented animal treatment laws; and may have even invented the obsessive cat memes and videos that now dominate so much of your time. One of Japan’s most Web-famous cats, Maru, is known for her much-watched YouTube videos (skip to 4:15, it’s worth it) and has an agent, a U.S. publicist and a Japanese publicist.
Maybe it’s not so surprising, then, that Japan also celebrates a cat-themed holiday, known alternatively as “Cat Day” or “Nyan Nyan Nyan Day.” And it’s today.
First, the name. In English, we describe the noise cats make as “meow,” but in Japanese it’s “nyan.” (If you’ve ever seen the “Nyan cat” video, that’s how it gots its name.) The word in Japanese for the number two is pronounced “ni,” which apparently sounds close enough to nyan that Feb. 22 (written 22/2 in Japan) could be called nyan nyan nyan. In other words, today’s day sounds kind of like “meow meow meow” in Japanese.