And kanji with manga
Wednesday, October 5, 2016

nekomimi 猫耳

In Japanese, nekomimi 猫耳, meaning "cat ears," can refer to an actual cat's ears, to the cat ears of a cat girl or cat boy character, to cat ear headbands used to cosplay as a cat girl or cat boy character, or to other things that resemble cat ears, but technically are not.

It's also spelled without kanji, as nekomimi ネコミミ.

Eris エリス, example of "cat ears," nekomimi 猫耳.
Character: Eris エリス
Anime: Asobi ni Iku yo! あそびにいくヨ! (Episode 1)

Meaning

The word nekomimi 猫耳 is a compound noun formed by the animal word neko 猫, "cat," and the body part mimi 耳, "ear." The word is seldom used to refer to an actual cat's ears, since it's obvious a cat's ears would be cat ears, as they're the ears of a cat.
  • neko no nekomimi
    猫耳
    A cat's cat-ears. (nobody says this.)
  • neko no mimi
    猫の耳
    A cat's ears. Cat ears. (see: no-adjectives.)

Nekomimi 猫耳, "cat ears," diagram, featuring Hakase はかせ and Sakamoto 阪本.
Girl: Hakase はかせ
Cat: Sakamoto 阪本
Anime: Nichijou 日常 (Episode 5)

The nekomimi is a type of kemonomimi 獣耳, "animal ears." Like other kemonomimi words, nekomimi means only the cat ears, but characters that have cat eats normally also have other cat features.

For reference, how to say "cat girl" in Japanese:
  • neko-musume
    猫娘
    Cat girl.
    • This term normally refers to a character from Gegege no Kitarou ゲゲゲの鬼太郎.
    • musume
      Daughter.
      Girl. (because every girl is somebody's daughter.)
  • nekomimi musume
    猫耳娘
    Cat-ears girl. Cat-eared girl.

And how to say "cat boy" in Japanese:
  • neko-danshi
    猫男子
    Cat boy.
    • Warning: neko is also a gay slang for "bottom" in a homosexual relationship.
  • nekomimi-danshi
    猫耳男子
    Cat-ears boy. Cat-eared boy.

And lastly, gender-neutral terms:
  • nekomimi-kyara
    猫耳キャラ
    Cat-ears character. Cat-eared character.
    • nekomimi-kyarakutaa
      猫耳キャラクター
      (same meaning.)
  • neko-kyara
    猫キャラ
    Cat character.
    • This is an actual cat that is a character, not someone wearing cat ears.
  • nekobito

    Cat people.
    • If you see this word, it's probably referring to a race of demi-human characters in a fantasy world, isekai 異世界, or something, not to actual cat-eared characters.

The word is sometimes spelled with katakana, as nekomimi ネコミミ, to avoid ambiguity with real "cat ears." Similarly, "bunny ears," usagimimi 兎耳, are abbreviated to usamimi うさみみ, and kemonomimi is abbreviated to kemomimi ケモミミ.

You can attach nekomimi to other words, too. For example:

A nekomimi 猫耳 headband.
Anime: K-On!, Keion! けいおん! (Episode 9)
  • nekomimi-heabando
    猫耳ヘアバンド
    Cat-ears "hairband." (wasei-eigo 和製英語)
    Cat-ears headband.
  • nekomimi-kachuusha
    猫耳カチューシャ
    Cat-ears "katyusha."
    Cat-ears headband.
  • nekomimi boushi
    猫耳帽子
    Cat-ears hat.
    Cat-ears cap.
  • nekomimi huudo
    猫耳フード
    Cat-ears hood.

Nike ニケ, and Kururi ククリ turned into cats. In the series, they say unyoraa ウニョラー and toppirokii トッピロキー instead of human language.
Left: Nike ニケ
Right: Kukuri ククリ
Anime: Mahoujin Guruguru 魔法陣グルグル (2017) (Episode 14)
  • nekomimi paakaa
    猫耳パーカー
    Car-ears hoodie.

Types

For reference, some examples of nekomimi 猫耳 and their different types.

Natural

Cat girl characters normally have cat ears attached to their bodies. Since they're cat ears, they're nekomimi.

Coconut ココナツ, example of cat girl with heterochromia.
Character: Coconut ココナツ
Anime: Nekopara ネコぱら (Episode 1)

Cosplay

Even if you weren't born a cat girl, that doesn't mean you can't dress up as one. Cosplay featuring cat ears also counts as nekomimi.

Suzukaze Aoba 涼風青葉, cat girl cosplay, example of nekomimi猫耳.
Character: Suzukaze Aoba 涼風青葉
Anime: New Game!! (Season 2) (Episode 2)

Pseudo

Sometimes characters have cat ears that aren't actually cat ears, they just look like cat ears, but, in reality, they're something else.

Ibaraki-douji 茨木童子, example of cat girl with heterochromia.
Character: Ibaraki-douji 茨木童子
Anime: Onigiri 鬼斬 (Episode 3)
  • Those two things that look exactly like cat ears on top of her head are, canonically, her horns, because she's half oni.

Hair

One sub-type of pseudo-nekomimi is hair. The hair of the character just stands up in such way that it looks like the character has cat ears, or animal ears in general.

Rokudou Rin 六堂鈴, example of hair nekomimi 猫耳.
Character: Rokudou Rin 六堂鈴
Anime: Keijo!!!!!!!! 競女!!!!!!!! (Episode 3)

Robotic

Sometimes, characters from futuristic settings wear robotic nekomimi. These cyber cat ears may or may not have a practical purpose. Maybe they're functional, and just happen to look like cat ears, but maybe they're useless, and the character is just cosplaying as an android cat girl or something.

Tsugumi ツグミ, example of robotic "cat ears," nekomimi 猫耳.
Character: Tsugumi ツグミ
Anime: Guilty Crown (Episode 5)

Double

Some characters have two sets of ears: cat ears and human ears.

Naturally, characters who are cosplaying or wearing cat ear headbands look like they have two set of ears, their real human ears and the fake cat ones. However, here we're talking specifically about characters who appear to have two sets of real ears, attached to their bodies somehow.

Aoyagi Ritsuka 青柳立夏, Soubi Agatsuma 我妻草灯, example of double ears: human ears plus "cat ears," nekomimi 猫耳.
Left: Aoyagi Ritsuka 青柳立夏
Right: Soubi Agatsuma 我妻草灯
Anime: Loveless (Episode 1)
  • In Loveless, only virgin characters have cat ears.

Opera オペラ, example of cat ears, pointed ears.
Character: Opera オペラ
Anime: Mairimashita! Iruma-kun 魔入りました!入間くん (Episode 10)
  • Q: "Do you like cat ears or elf ears?"
  • A: "Yes."

See yotsumimi 四つ耳, "four ears," for details.

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