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.
The holiday is not just a recent fad, and it may not have even started spontaneously. I found an Associated Press story from 1987 titled "Japan Celebrates Annual Cat Day." According to the story, that Tokyo gathering was the "first annual" of a holiday that now appears to be in its 27th year. The story also explains, "The Executive Cat Day Committee chose Feb. 22 as Cat Day after polling nearly 9,000 cat fanciers."
Last year's cat day included special pet shop promotions and a survey on the most popular cat names (Sora for males, Momo for females), according to the Moscow-run Voice of Russia.
In 2007, according to a Japanese blog's translation of now-irretrievable Yahoo Japan story, the city of Fukuoka celebrated with "an art show of cat sculptures" by 32 artists who displayed the works in public.
Mostly, people seem to celebrate cat day in Japan by posting photos and videos of their cats. In that spirit, here is a compilation of Maru, Japan's most famous cat. You can find plenty more on YouTube.