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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Japan's Better Mousetrap

This is the Cat Mew Machine, built in 1963 in Japan, apparently.

Plug it in, and the 2-watt motor it will make it meow like a cat 10 times a minute, with the eyes on the plastic cat head lighting up with each meow.

The meowing is supposed to scare away rats and mice.

I'm pretty sure I would have to shoot this contraption after two minutes to make it shut-up.

But did it work?

I'm no expert on rodents, but those little buggers get by pretty well with their sense of smell... so unless this smells like a cat, aside from the initial surprise of hearing something dangerous (not just a meow, but a noise, for example), the mouse or rat is hardly going to be afraid.

You will find mouse poop in your butter dish.

I'm guessing it wasn't a big seller at the time... but might be valuable now as an odd curiosity piece.

Speaking of curiosity—which killed the cat—I wonder if the Cat Mew machine's meow sounded like a Japanese cat or a North American cat?

By that, I mean... if you were to ask a North American person (I don't wish to speak out of turn for others) to imitate a cat (and I can do a pretty good one, myself - though my big rottweiler dog bark is far superior), we utilize the whole "meow" sound, whereas the Japanese sound it out quite differently.

To start with, the Japanese word for cat is pronounced 'neko' (ねこ - in hiragana and 猫 as expressed in Japanese kanji - just in case it's different in Chinese lettering).

The whole concept of animal noises or sounds is called 'dōbutsu no koe'(どうぶつのこえ or 動物の声) and means 'animal voices'.

While North Americans might do a double sound for some animal calls, we do NOT do so for cats, opting for a singular 'meow'.

The Japanese—regardless of the critter—they double up on the word to echo the animal voice.

So, in Japanese, a person would imitate a cat by performing a "nyā nyā (ニャーニャー)" sound. (For a dog, it's "wan-wan", which sounds so ridiculous to MY ears... you should have seen the junior high school class when I did my dog bark!! LOL! And I am laughing out loud for real!)

I actually spent a whole class performing on key differences between Canadian culture and Japanese, including the mimicking of animal sounds and how we write and say them... it was actually the best class I ever taught, and the most fun. I guess I like to show off, and I had a captive audience that kept throwing out animals for me to mimic. Back in those days, I could mimic a few hundred voices. I'm out of practice these days—and there's no point doing Jimmy Durante if no one nose who that is anymore. 

Back to the "nyā nyā", which sounds a lot like Edward G. Robinson... see? That's why I don't do the voices anymore. See? Nyah. Maybe I should have learned to do some voices from the 21st century. 

Now, the first conclusion some people might have is that it's a Japanese cat, so why couldn't it sound different? Because it's a cat. Independent of its breed, cats sound similar regardless of country of origin.

Trust me, you don't have to speak German to control your German Shepard. And your Siamese cat is going to ignore you regardless of your ability to speak Thai.

Just as North Americans can have multiple ways to bark like a dog (woof, growf, ruff, roof, DiMaggio, etc.), and can mimic a cat with multiple types of sounds depending on what cat sound you want to perform (there's more than one!), the Japanese have multiple ways of mimicking a cat.

Along with "nyā", there is also "ニャン (nyan)", "ニャーン (nyān)", "ニャーオ (nyāo)". Except you have to say each word twice, of course.

If it's just me, the last one—"ニャーオ (nyāo)" sounds the most accurate, except one does not need to repeat the word to actually make it sound like a cat!

By the way... in English, the term 'onomatopoeia' describes words phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.

So... I ask again... just what the heck did this Japanese rodent frightener sound like? Or, did it really just softly mew as it's name purports? Mewing won't scare anything!

Somewhere in a maze, Andrew Joseph
Andrew Joseph
When I wrote this two days ago, I only had two lines describing the product -but getting curioser and curioser, I decided to turn it into a teaching environ.

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