Japanese Cat Breeds

Cats are highly revered in Japanese culture and folklore. They are also popular as pets. Learn more about the types of cats in Japan, native Japanese cat breeds, and what breeds are the most popular as family pets.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: March 6, 2024 | 9 min read

Cat in front of a Japanese shrine.

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In Japan, cats are revered creatures, considered vessels of good luck, and are interwoven into the country’s history, folklore, and pop culture. Cats are also extremely popular pets for the Japanese people and are hugely prevalent in art, fashion, and entertainment. But are there Japanese cat breeds?

Cats are often depicted in Japanese culture, stories, and art and are believed to be sacred guardians and bringers of good luck and fortune. The positive relationship between cats and people goes back centuries in Japan and continues today.

Read on to learn more about the types of cats in Japan, those popular as pets, and those native to the area. Some are pretty rare, while others are popular worldwide. Let’s get into it.

Cats In Japanese Culture

Cat napping on window sill of Yakitori restaurant in Tokyo.
Japan’s feline friends gracefully navigate the streets of Tokyo, embodying the essence of Neko culture.

Cats are believed to bring good luck in Japanese culture. Felines play a big role in the lore, both well-loved but also sometimes feared creatures. Many homes and businesses have a welcoming cat sculpture, or “maneki neko,” outside the door to greet anyone who enters.

As the tale goes, the maneki neko sculptures honor a mythical cat said to wave to passersby, directing them to safety. The different colors have meanings: white sculptures symbolize good luck and good fortune, while black wards off evil, yellow represents wealth, red means good health, and pink means love or romance.

Along with these little statues, the country has several cat shrines, temples, and large sculptures. One notable one is the Azusamitenjinja shrine, built in 1629. The shrine is famous as the place cat owners come to pray for their lost cats’ safe return. It is also called the Cat Returning Shrine.

Cat Breeds Native To Japan

Though cats are beloved in Japanese culture, only a few breeds have true roots there. Domestic felines are not native to the country. Any species considered native originated in China and Asia in the ancient past. The country is full of stray kitties, but no domestic feline breeds originated there.

Japanese Bobtail

Japanese Bobtail on a black background.

Japanese Bobtails are highly recognizable for their bobbed tails, a physical characteristic caused by a mutated recessive gene. While all members of the breed have a short, pom-pom-like tail, these are not uniform in size or shape. Japanese Bobtails have triangular faces and large, prominent ears. These kitties are small, only reaching eight to twelve pounds, with long or short silky hair.

Bobtails have sweet, loving personalities and are quite intelligent and energetic. They make excellent family pets and love to be the center of attention. Owning one of these kitties is considered to be good luck.

The Japanese Bobtail is a relatively rare feline breed with ancient connections to Japan. Their exact origins are somewhat mysterious, but they are thought to have come to the area from China. Japanese Bobtails have connections to ancient Buddhist monks and Japanese emperors as far back as the sixth century. Those ancient kinked-tailed felines were not always kept as pets. In 1602, all domestic kitties were released into the street by royal order to help control rats and other rodents that threatened the silkworms that fueled Japan’s silk trade.

When keeping them as pets was no longer legal, Bobtails became street dwellers and, eventually, farm cats. They are popular pets today for their intelligent, friendly personalities and unique looks.

Kurilian Bobtail

Kurilian Bobtail on a white background.

Kurilian Bobtail cats originated in the Kuril Islands. The islands are under the control of both Russia and Japan, which is why the breed is often also said to be Russian. Kurilian Bobtails are a naturally developed breed that has inhabited the islands for at least 200 years.

Kurilian Bobtails are larger than Japanese Bobtails, often reaching about 15 pounds. They have a semi-cobby body, meaning they have big bones, thick builds, and broad chests. As their name suggests, Kurilian Bobtails have a distinctly bobbed tail. Their tails can contain anywhere from two to ten vertebrae, causing a variety of kinky, curly tails throughout the breed.

These kitties have fuzzy coats, which can be long or short. Kurilian Bobtails are intelligent, skilled mousers with agreeable personalities.

Tsushima Leopard Cat

Tushima Leopard cat sitting outside.
Photo credit: Pontafon

The Tsushima Leopard Cat is not a domestic kitty but is a wild feline species native to Japan. These wildcats are a Critically Endangered species that inhabits Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture. Tsushima Leopard Cats are similar in size to domestic kitties but are not in any way tame. They have long lived near humans but do not have a cordial relationship, nor are they kept as pets. The species was declared a national treasure in 1971. Some are still bred in captivity in hopes of increasing the wildcat population.

Tsushima Leopard Cats look similar to domestic kitties in many ways but have some notable differences. The wild cats have short, round ears, distinct stripes that run from their foreheads down their backs, and white spots on their backs. They also have slender bodies with long legs. These wild kitties are often called shapeshifters. The name is due to their bodies being round and fat when fully fed or skinny and smaller when food is scarce.

Only about 80 to 100 of these Tsushima leopards are estimated to be alive today.

Iriomote Cat

Iriomote cat licking fur.

The other feline species native to Japan is the Iriomote Cat, another endangered wildcat species. They are native to and only found on Iriomote Island. Currently, only about 100 of these kitties still exist. Iriomote Cats are often called yamaneko, or “mountain cats,” in Japanese.

Iriomote Cats are sometimes said to be one of the rarest feline species on record. They like to be active at night. This species looks similar in size to domestic kitties, weighing between six and ten pounds when fully grown. Their appearance is distinctly wild, with large triangular-shaped ears, wide, flat noses, round ears with white spots behind them, and a ring of white fur around the eyes. They also have distinctly fatter tails than domestic felines.

7 Most Popular Cat Breeds In Japan

I’ve covered a few breeds of cats native to Japan, But these breeds are not necessarily popular as pets in the country. When it comes to selecting kitty companions, a few specific breeds are more popular than others. Below, I will introduce you to the seven most popular cat breeds in Japan, according to recent data taken from Statista. Most of these breeds are famous for their unique and eye-catching looks.

1. Mixed Breeds

Mixed breed Maine Coon - Persian, sitting in a box starring at the camera
A Maine Coon mixed with a Persian.

Mixed breeds are the most popular cats to have as pets in Japan, according to multiple surveys conducted in 2023. These blended breed kitties come in all shapes and sizes. They can be somewhat unpredictable in appearance and personality but are often lovable, affectionate companions. Because the stray population of Japanese Bobtails was so high at one point, many of the mixed breeds in the country likely share some genetics with them.

2. Scottish Fold

Scottish Fold cat sitting on ground next to sofa.

Scottish Folds are the second most popular feline breed in Japan and are another feline species with distinctly different physical characteristics than most. This breed has a natural, dominant gene mutation that affects their body’s cartilage. The mutation causes their ears to fold forward and bend down, leading to the name lop-eared cat, lops, or Highland Folds. The breed originated in Scotland in the 1960s. Some breed members do not develop folded ears but share other characteristics.

Scottish Folds are famous for their incredibly charming, curious personalities and rounded bodies. They are low-energy kitties who love human attention. Scottish Folds love to play games and can be quite talkative. Their folded ears, short, petite noses, and rounded cheeks accompanied by big, rounded eyes give them an eternally gentle facial expression.

3. American Shorthair

American Shorthair cat sitting on blue rug.

Coming in third on the list is the American Shorthair, a gentle, mid-sized kitty with an amiable personality. Although American Shorthairs are native to the United States, the American Shorthair has roots in feline breeds originating in Europe. They make excellent companions and have very easygoing, friendly temperaments.

American Shorthairs have a thick, muscular build on a heavy frame but are not overly athletic. This breed often has a silver coat with darker or black tabby markings. They have brown faces, large, engaging eyes, and medium-sized triangular ears. American Shorthairs can be large, around 15 or more pounds, though they take three to four years to mature fully.

American Shorthairs are a beautiful breed with a reasonably long lifespan. They make fantastic family pets, which is likely why they are immensely popular in Japan and many other places worldwide.

4. Munchkin

Scottish Fold Munchkin Cat laying down.

Munchkins are the fourth most popular kitty breed in Japanese homes. They are beloved for their adorable looks, which are caused by a genetic mutation. Munchkins are undeniably adorable, standing just five to seven inches tall and reaching only nine pounds at their largest. They have incredibly short legs due to their genetic mutation and have a silly, scurrying-like stride. Munchkins also often sit upright, like ferrets or rabbits.

Munchkins are not actually one specific feline breed, and the genetic mutation that gives them shorter legs can occur in both purebred and mixed breeds. Along with being quite adorable, Munchkins usually have very engaging, friendly personalities. Essentially, they are just like their larger-sized counterparts, just smaller in size. Munchkin kitties are quite friendly and love to be the center of attention.

5. Russian Blue

Russian blue kitten is resting on the rug in the living room. Calm relaxed mood. Morning of the cat.

The gorgeous Russian Blue is the fifth most popular cat breed in Japan. Blues are believed to come from northern Russia (near the Arctic Circle) on Arkhangelsk Island. Arkhangelsk translates to Archangel, giving them the nickname Archangel Blue. Russian Blues are docile kitties with a quiet, friendly personality. They are wonderfully sweet but reserved with those they do not know.

Russian Blues are small to medium-sized, usually reaching about 12 or so pounds when fully grown. They stand out for their striking and dense coat of blue-to-gray shades and their bright green eyes. Their eyes have yellow rims as kittens, giving them a very supernatural look. Their unique look and gentle personality make a Russian Blue a wonderful family pet.

6. Norwegian Forest Cat

Norwegian Forest Cat walking outside in snow

The fluffy and adventurous Norwegian Forest Cat makes the list as the sixth most popular kitty in Japan. These hefty felines can reach 18 or more pounds. They have long bodies, dense, fluffy coats, and long tails. Norwegian Forest Cats or Wegies can come in almost any color or pattern except colorpoint.

Hailing from Norway, the Wegie is an independent, intelligent, yet affectionate feline. They are incredibly friendly with people of all ages and even get along with other pets, which is likely why they are such a popular companion. The breed dates back to the Viking age and even has mentions in Norse mythology.

7. Ragdoll

Woman petting Ragdoll cat.

The gorgeous, fluffy, floppy Ragdoll is Japan’s seventh most popular kind of kitty. These large kitties stand out for their gorgeous coats and brightly colored eyes. They often have colorpoint, plush coats. The breed was developed in the United States in the 1960s and has quickly grown in popularity.

Raggies are famous for their docile, calm dispositions and people-dependent personalities. They adore attention and love being picked up, petted, and carried about. They get the name floppy cats from their tendency to flop limply in your arms. Ragdolls can be considerable in size, between 15 and 20 pounds on average. They have gorgeous faces with pointed ears, engaging eyes, and a sweet expression.

Though they aren’t on the most popular list, several other breeds are cherished and kept as family pets in Japanese homes. These include the Chinchilla, Persian, Maine Coon, Bengal, Abyssinian, and Somali.

Japan’s Cat Islands

Along with keeping cats as pets. Japan is home to several “cat islands,” or “Neko Shima.” These eleven islands are places where the feline population greatly outnumbers humans. Each island hosts just a few hundred people and massive tribes of domestic stray cats. They happily live alongside humans who take very good care of them. In some places, felines outnumber humans by at least eight to one.

The original feline populations on the islands can be traced back to those set free upon the emperor’s orders to control the rodent and pest population. Others may have made their way to the islands on fishermen’s boats. Today, these kitties continue to keep the rodent populations at bay and live harmoniously among the island’s few human residents. Although not all are open for visitors, some of Japan’s kitty-infested islands have become tourist attractions for feline-loving folk.

The video below shows just what life is like on Japan’s famed cat islands.

Learn More About Other Cat Breeds

The breeds listed here are all popular in different places, and for good reason. Many other areas and cultures love cats, so if you want to learn more, check out these articles on Egyptian, Russian and German feline breeds. We also cover Anime names if you want to give your kitty a Japanese-inspired name. And if you are a first-time owner, learn more about the best cat breeds for beginners. Almost all kitties can make amazing family pets with proper care, affection, and training, regardless of breed.

Did I mention your favorite breed here? If I missed it, let me know in the comments.

Why Trust Love Your Cat?

Danielle is a cat owner with over 30 years of experience. She’s also a dedicated and skilled researcher who works hard to stay on top of the latest science-backed research, developments, and trends in pet care, training, food, and products. Danielle works alongside a talented and dedicated team to provide pet owners with helpful information to better their lives.

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