Japanese landscape through a cat’s eyes

I have written about my favourite internet cat, Shiro, once before (click here to read the article). Usually Shiro and his fellow feline housemates are featured sleeping, with an array of odd household items on their head.

Shiro and his feline friends

Shiro and his feline friends

Cats with towels on their heads

Beautiful blue skies and cats with towels on their heads

My favourite videos of Shiro however, are the ones where you can see in what kind of stunning environment Shiro and his owner live. I have the impression that they live on an old Japanese farm somewhere in the mountains. The scenery always makes me long for Japan and its beautiful landscapes.

Here is a video of Shiro walking outside in the snow:

And below is a more elaborate video where you really get a good look at the environment. Also notice the crow sounds in the background, which to me are very reminiscent of Japan.

Kaomoji or Japanese emoticons

One of the things that fascinate me about Japan, is the fact that they mostly have the same stuff we do, but in a different version. It makes you realize how many different ways there are of doing the same thing.

A very good example is the way Japanese people use emoticons. For the more digitally challenged among you, I will start at the beginning: an emoticon is a depiction of a facial expression using punctuation marks, numbers and letters. Emoticons are often used to express emotion while chatting or writing informal e-mails. Western emoticons are faces ‘lying on their side’. For example:

:- )   smiley face        –>  Happy birthday! :- )

:-s   embarrassed       –>  Oops! I’m so sorry :-s

;- )   winking

Japanese emoticons are called ‘kaomoji’, from the words for face (kao) and emoticon (emoji). And as you might have guessed by now, they are nothing like Western emoticons. If you ask me, they are so much cooler! For starters they are not rotated. You ‘read’ them as they are. For example:

^_^    simple smiley face

(^_^;)    embarrassed face (there is a sweat drop to the side of the face)

(^_~)    winking

Aren’t they cute? There is a lot more variation in Japanese emoticons than in Western ones. Some of them are pretty elaborate. Have a look at these:

(*´▽`*) infatuated

(@_@)      feeling dizzy

>^..^<       a cat

(*^▽^*)      very happy face

I also find it interesting to see how some emotional expressions are different in Japanese culture, like for example the drop of sweat to express discomfort or a bow to apologize:

m(_ _)m   person bowing down in apology, the letter m represents a hand

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What is your favourite emoticon?

Japan’s most famous cat

I once heard somewhere that 80% of all content on the internet is porn. But surely that can’t be true. If you ask me, 80% of all content on the internet consists of funny cat pictures.

The most famous website with funny cat pictures is ‘I can has cheezburger‘. It features pictures of cats with comments in slightly distorted English. While some people might argue about the comic value of ‘lolcats’, as these pictures are commonly known (geek humor is not for everyone), there can be no doubt about the fact that this site has made a huge contribution to the explosion of cute and funny cat pictures on the internet.

lolcats

An example of ‘lolcats’

Since Japanese people love all things cute, naturally the Japanese also participate in the phenomenon of cute online cats. Japan’s most famous online cat* is called Shiro, which means white. It’s owner has a YouTube channel and a blog where he or she posts daily video’s of Shiro. Shiro is apparently quite famous in Japan, because I have come across Shironeko merchandise like calendars and birthday cards.

shironeko blog

Close-up of Shiro

 The Shironeko videos are not just videos of a cat doing your average cat things. The reason that Shiro is so famous, is because its owner has a habit of piling things on top of Shiro’s head. And amazingly, Shiro puts up with it. When I imagine doing the same thing to my cat, scenes of a madly screaming and flailing cat come to mind.

Have a look at Shiro with a ramen bowl on his head:

If you think a ramen bowl is impressive, check out the video below:

Apparently the owner has several other, equally docile cats:

The thing I love most about these videos is actually not the cute cats, but the glimpses of Japan that are in the background, like the beautiful screen doors in the ramen video or the scenery of the Japanese mountains in the videos outside. Apparently the owner lives in a beautiful secluded home somewhere in the mountains. Having lived in an almost entirely flat country like Belgium for most of my life, the beauty of the Japanese mountains has made a big impression on me.

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Just as I was finishing up this article, I found out that there is another Japanese internet cat that is a lot more famous than Shiro. His name is Maru, his videos get millions of views and he has been featured in the New York Times. There is no denying it, the title of most famous cat in Japan goes to Maru. But I do remain a Shiro fan. The Shiro videos are just so wonderfully odd!