Japanese Cat Sayings in Ukiyo-e: Kuniyoshi’s Funny Cats

Cats playing "cat sayings"

たとえ尽の内(右図)- Cats playing “Japanese cat sayings” of right painting (konekono-heya)

Japanese cat sayings by Ukiyo-e artist, Kuniyoshi — Although a lot of cat prints and paintings we can see from Edo, real cats were precious. There were vendors who sold cat paintings to silkworm breeders as a charm to get rid of rats. The cat might have been taken as the protective deity because they take care of rats which damage silkworm. Kuniyoshi painted cat sayings using cat. Let’s take a look at these 8 Japanese cat sayings.

Japanese Cat Sayings by Kuniyoshi

You can enjoy Kuniyoshi’s paintings just as it is. But these paintings showing Japanese sayings using cats. You can enjoy more of these once you understand its meanings. Let’s dig into it.

Table of Content

  1. Bonito to A Cat
  2. Wear A Cat
  3. Coins to A Cat
  4. A Hammer to A Cat’s Butt
  5. Even A Cat Doesn’t Eat
  6. When A Cat Wash his Face, It Rains
  7. A Cat and A Village Headman Always…
  8. A Bag to A Cat

1. Bonito to A Cat

A cat looking at a bonito in front of him

猫に鰹節 — Bonito to Cat (konekono-heya)

Setting a wolf to mind the sheep, temptation one can’t resist. So it’s giving the cause of trouble, encouraging things get worse. Like you hand your keys to a thief. You can’t trust a cat with bonito as with milk!

2. Wear A Cat

A cat sitting showing his back

猫を被る -wear a cat (konekono-heya)

A wolf in a sheep’s clothing, feign innocence, hide one’s true self. One more example, beautiful rose always comes with thrones. You want to be very careful with someone who looks so cute and talks so smooth, she or he may might trying to get something from you…

3. Coins to A Cat

A cat playing with a coin

猫に小判 — Coin to Cat (konekono-heya)

Pearls cast before swine. Nothing happens…
 It doesn’t mean anything to have precious thing if one doesn’t know its value. Never heard cat goes to a supermarket and bring grocery back. At least, not yet.

4. A Hammer to A Cat’s Butt

There's a hammer close to a cat's butt

猫の尻に才槌 — Hammer to Cat’s Butt (konekono-heya)

An example of ill-fitting, inappropriate, unproportionate. Again, nothing happens with a hammer to cat’s butt.

Oh, he may start to play with it, though. There would only be nibbled and tired hammer on the scene…

Now. let’s look at the Left painting of たとえ尽のうち!

Cats playing "cat sayings" of left painting

たとえ尽の内(左図)- Cats playing “cat sayings” of left painting (konekono-heya)

5. Even A Cat Doesn’t Eat

Cats look the other way even there's something to eat

猫も食わない — Even cats don’t eat (konekono-heya)

There is some looking good stuff in a paper. But, you see? Even cat don’t sniff at it. It’s a sure sign of bad food. Stay away from it. Forget it and get move on.

6. When A Cat Wash his Face, It Rains[1]

Cats washing their faces

猫が顔を洗うと雨が降る — when cat washes his face, it rains (konekono-heya)

When a cat wash his face, it’s said it’d rain. Cat’s grooming behavior might be related to the weather. Also it’s said this cat behavior brings a guest[2]. It looks like he is welcoming rain or waving his paw to friends.

7. A Cat and A Village Headman Always…

Personified cat look like a village head looking at a mouse with fearless smile with tobacco in his hand

猫と庄屋に取らぬはない — Cats always catch a mouse and village head always takes a bribe (konekono-heya)

Cat catch a mouse, village headman take a bribe. Cats get to eat when they have a mouse, a rat or a fish in front of them while village headman don’t let a chance go when a bribe offered. It’s to satirize officers who take bribes. Well, nobody wants to miss a chance of delicious gift!

8. A Bag to A Cat

Cat puts his head in a bag

猫に紙袋 — Things recede (konekono-heya)

An example of receding things. Or being held back, and shrink. It comes from this behavior, you see when
 When you put a bag on a cat, he goes backward to take it off.

It resembles things receding or a person shrinks away from something.

Beckoning Cat

Relating to saying of 6. When Cat Wash his Face, It Rains


, beckoning cat was born in Edo, too. Although its origin is not very clear.

There are some theories which claim it’s the origin. An old woman had to give up her kitten because of poverty.

One night, this kitten came up in her dream and told her to make a doll in the form of this kitten, so that she could be rich. She did just what she was told, she became rich…

That’s one of the theories. In any theories, one who listens to a cat and do what she was told to do benefit tremendously. So, you might wanna listen to your cat and do what your kitty tells you to do. Then something fabulous happens to you… You think?

OId Beckoning Cat

Beckoning Cat (Itow Takumi)


たとえ尽の内 (konekono-heya.com)
 猫のことわざ・故事成語 (nekohon)
 日本における猫 江戸時代の猫 (konekono-heya.com)

[2] 招き猫

Related Articles

Kuniyoshi: Doting Cat lover’s Humorous Cat Paintings
 Maneki Neko: Japanese Lucky Cat Brings You a Fortune
 Beauties with Cats in Edo: 6 Standards of Beautiful Women

Originally published at Johnny Times.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.