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I've been living in Japan for the past year and a half, and I've noticed that cats here generally seem to behave differently from the cats in England, where I'm from. People from other European countries and the USA say the same thing.

In England, most cats are shy and will run away from an unfamiliar human, while a few others are gregarious and will approach strangers and seek affection from them. In Japan one often sees cats just sitting there and more-or-less ignoring people who pass by or approach them, which isn't something I ever really saw before coming here. (The exception would be a few cats I've known that live in a bar or a shop and have learnt to mostly ignore the customers, but in Japan one sees this behaviour all the time, just in the street.)

Similarly, in Britain, cats are very territorial and will generally fight other cats. You wouldn't expect to see two or three cats calmly sitting next to each other unless they were in an enclosed space such as a house. But it's a common sight outdoors in Japan.

Examples of these behaviours can be found on YouTube. For example, the cats in this video are probably trained, but the behaviour of average cats found in public places is often not so different.

Does anybody know the reason for this? I can think of a few possibilities. It might be genetic, or it might be because of the very high population density (of both humans and cats), or it might be because Japanese people behave differently towards cats than western people. (Cats are considered lucky in Japanese culture.) I'm interested in which if any of these explanations is correct. Have the reasons for the behavioural differences between Japanese and European cats been studied, and is the answer known?

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Cats don't have fixed social structures or fixed ways of dealing with people.

The behavioral differences you see are >90% likely due to the environment. That is they behave differently than what you expect because the environment in Japan is probably very different than that in Britain.

In England and the US some cats will be feral/stray and unapproachable / weary, others will be friendly as they are owned and used to nice people. Likewise, population densities are probably such that wild ones can fight for their own space.

The Japanese cats you see might try to avoid people if they could but are so used to having people around (but not necessarily used to people being friendly) that they regard them as nonthreatening. Likewise, cat crowding might make it too much of a chore to continually fight over turf. In some areas with high stray populations in the US the same thing occurs.

Unlike dogs (which have a predisposition to a hierarchical social grouping) the way cats behave socially is very dynamic and highly dependent on environmental conditions.

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  • Cats in the US in Trap-Neuter-Release colonies that are fed hang around each other without much fighting. A lot of cat territorialism is competing for mates and food. If there is no sex drive and food is abundant, cats get along better. – Oldcat Jul 28 '14 at 22:04
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    Sometimes it even happens with unaltered cats in areas with high population densities. Definitely altering a cat would make it more mellow though. – Dan S Jul 28 '14 at 22:53
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It has alot to do with genetics. How we domesticate an animal is basicly picking the most docile of the group and mate it with the second most docile and keep this selective progress going on. Cat being docile in Japan is really important and while breeding they probably paid more attention to this property more than others as in other parts of the world they really did not care. As a result cats are more docile in japan

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    do you have sources for your answer? I think you might be right, but good sources can make an answer quite a bit better. – Flummox - don't be evil SE May 14 '18 at 12:23

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