Cats vs Bottles (part 1)
Anyone walking around streets in Japan will very quickly notice many plastic bottles filled with water have been placed up against houses and walls, between flower pots, lining fences and walls, tucked into corners and so on. This behaviour was imported from the West and is believed to repel street animals.
Known as 猫よけ (“nekoyoke”, meaning “cat repellant”) they are one of the distinctive features of the Japanese urban landscape.
Various people believe the tradition originated from places as far afield as Hawaii, Greece, Albania and New Zealand but nobody seems to have a definitive answer.
The trend exploded overseas as far back as the 1980s in Europe and America where it was primarily directed at dogs and bottles are often scattered on lawns, but as street dogs don’t really exist in Japan, here it’s focussed on keeping cats at bay.
And of course it’s done in a uniquely Japanese way.
so how is it meant to work?
The idea is that light from the sun (or from streetlamps at night) shines through the water in the bottle and “flashes” the cat, thereby frightening it and causing it to run away. Of course, even if this were true it would be useless on cloudy days or in any shaded position. However as with most superstitions, people conveniently overlook such small details and carry on regardless.
While many seem not to question how the bottles supposedly achieve their aim (“Oh, we’ve always done it”), others have invented extraordinary and ludicrous theories for the science behind the effect.
“it works best at night and if there is a breeze”
although how breeze makes any difference to a closed bottle they didn’t explain. Another contributor claims that
“the cat gets a small static charge off the bottle”.
In parts of Italy they apparently believe that green bottles work far better than clear bottles, again for reasons unexplained.
The majority of discussions about how it all works involve reflections – many think
“The reason why the water bottles work is because the cats don’t like looking at their distorted reflection”
while others simply claim that the animal doesn’t recognize it’s own reflection and runs away, thinking it to be an enemy.
It begs the question of why none of these people ever seems to have bothered to look at a water-filled bottle. They would immediately notice that they aren’t reflective – at all.
The most mind-bogglingly outrageous explanation I came across is that
“Cats navigate by sensing delicate fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field, using their whiskers. Water distorts the magnetic waves of the earth and produces “blind spots,” which cats naturally avoid”.
…uh, right. Yet they drink the stuff every day.
It was also (rather interestingly) suggested on one website that the practice isn’t for cats at all, but that it derived from an old Japanese tradition whereby bottles were left in the street
“for travelling people to drink so you won’t be bothered with strangers knocking on your door”.
I encourage you to scout the web for more fascinating explanations.
Japan being a country renowned for neatness, the placement of bottles here is a far cry from the “scattered all over the place” approach of other countries. Following are just a few examples of how people have implemented this bizarre superstition in delightfully novel or particularly pointless ways.
One common strategy is to place a high concentration of bottles in one section while leaving other areas completely exposed:
They also forget that cats can jump.
In closing, I would like to point out that there are a few people who do actually have proof of how plastic bottles can be effective in keeping cats away.
Although, as they have said, “it does depend on how hard you hit the cat”.
See the follow-up post here in Cats vs Bottles (part 2) – proof!