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  • Writer's pictureKomaba Times

Hello, Kitty: A Look into Cat Culture in the Digital Age


Screencap of International Sensation Nekoatsume (Kitty Collector), courtesy of Jason Pettis.

Cats are predicted to surpass dogs as the country’s No.1 household pet, according to a recent study conducted by the Japan Pet Food Association.

That’s right, surpass dogs; the longtime best friend of mankind. Just last October, cat ownership in Japan has reached 9.87million and is believed to surpass the number of dog owners, which has staggered at 11.5 million. As a proud dog owner of three years, I cannot begin to fathom the reason behind the growing obsession for these stone cold felines.

But if the rise in unusual cat paraphernalia (eg. Yankee Candle’s delightfully exotic Whiskers on Kittens fragrance) is anything, cats are slowly taking the world by storm.

Just last year, the popular app game Nekoatsume (Kitty Collector) - a simple game in which the sole aim is to lure rare stray cats into the player’s home and backyard through various incentives - was released and had quickly become an international sensation. While simple in concept, the game had surpassed 10 million downloads and was honored as one of GameSpot’s Top 5 Mobile Games of 2015. Even for a game that allows you to become the crazy cat lady of your dreams, this statistic is still pretty insane.

So why the sudden surge in fixation? Like most millennial obsessions, it started on the Internet.

Youtube might as well be a haven for weirdly endearing cat videos. With the rise of Internet and social based technology, people have been able to share pictures and videos of their cats. Apps and websites like Instagram and Tumblr acting as digital megaphones provide a platform for cat-enthusiasts alike to share pictures and stories of their beloved fur-children.

A lot of people also love having cats over dogs because they are relatively easier to take care of and they require less interaction with the outside world, not to mention the economic benefits of owning cats. People have less time for social interaction and pet care, considering the growing ageing population and stress on the working sector. Economically, cats only cost 70,000 yen for the duration of their lifespan, while dogs cost 119,000 yen in their lifetime.

Interestingly, there has been a reported increased in male cat-owners in Japan. “They’re like children and girlfriends, rolled into one body,” said Kyoto University student Jun Ito. “Even when you’re feeling down, they keep you company by pressing up against your body. Since cats tend to have an image of elegance, my female friends often compliment me on my ‘fancy’ lifestyle as well” (ITmedia).

The term Neko-danshi (Cat-men) also refers to a category of men who are considerably more selfish, self-invested and well - like a cat. While these labels extend to dog men/women as well, it’s intriguing to see just how far cats have seeped into Japanese culture.

As someone who chokes back a sob whenever they encounter a dog, I am slightly ashamed to say that even I have a steadily growing stash of cat stationery. And yet, a part of me has also begun to admire the level of influence cats have worldwide. When will this cat-craze end? Will they leave their cold, unforgiving eyes and learn to love us? Why am I googling health care options for my non-existent cat? While these questions are daunting to say the least, for now, whether we love them or not, the cat craze is here to stay.

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