Japanese Idiom: As small as a cat’s forehead

Angry cat

Photo by Tomi Tapio on Flickr

As part of our new updating schedule we’re going to try to do major posts on Tuesdays and a minor post on Fridays. Fridays will be dedicated to news and interesting facts about Japan and the Japanese language. Today we’re going to look a fun Japanese idiom to describe a very small area.

neko no hitai – 猫の額

This Japanese idiom literately means a cat’s forehead and is used to describe something that is very small.

So you could say your Japanese apartment was neko no hitai or the portion size of your meal was neko no hitai.

Here’s an example sentence from the book 2001 Japanese and English Idioms:

Tokyo dewa, neko no hitai hodo no tochi demo kachi ga arimuasu.

東京では猫の額ほどの土地でも価値があります。

In Tokyo, even a very small piece of land in valuable.

Have fun using this idiom and let us know if you know more about it! And thanks to Alexander Shirokij for the Japanese translation.

5 Responses to “Japanese Idiom: As small as a cat’s forehead”

  1. Ai  on January 19th, 2012

    初めまして。I am just a passerby living in Japan.
    It is ok to use neko no hitai for describing something very small or narrow in spacially(dimensionally?) meaning, but I think it not proper to use for the quantitive meaning such as the portion of meal. I am not sure if the usage is grammertically correct or not though, at least it is not natural as a common usage in Japan.
    If you want to say the portion of food is petty, you’d better use suzume no namida(which means as small as sparrow’s teardrop) In fact, we hardly use this idiom for small food, but use it mainly when someone complains about his low salary. For example, watashi no kyuryo wa suzume no namida noyouni sukunai. I am sorry if you felt offended.

  2. Ai  on January 19th, 2012

    初めまして。I am just a passerby living in Japan.
    It is ok to use neko no hitai for describing something very small or narrow in spacially(dimensionally?) meaning, but I think it not proper to use for the quantitive meaning such as the portion of meal. I am not sure if the usage is grammertically correct or not though, at least it is not natural as a common usage in Japan.
    If you want to say the portion of food is petty, you’d better use suzume no namida(which means as small as sparrow’s teardrop) In fact, we hardly use this idiom for small food, but use it mainly when someone complains about his low salary. For example, watashi no kyuryo wa suzume no namida noyouni sukunai. I am sorry if you felt offended.

  3. Ai  on January 19th, 2012

    seems like I posted the same comment twice, sorry.
    Actually I have no idea the error message ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation’ does mean…

  4. Travis  on January 19th, 2012

    Wow! Thanks for the clarification Ai. I guess I was making a stretch with my portion size remark :)

  5. Travis  on January 19th, 2012

    Ahh that just happens when you post for the first time on the site. It’s used to cut down on spam. Not that you’ve have your first comment approved you won’t see that again.


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