The punchline to a wonderful two-line bilingual joke, realized in this cartoon:


First, some analysis of the Japanese-Spanish joke. Then some reflections on its appearance, all over the net, in both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking contexts, without attribution to an artist or identification of a source. And, finally, a likely account of its origin, in the Zona Dorado district of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico.

The joke. The linguistic content involves, first, the Japanese word usually represented in the Latin alphabet as arigato:

(#2) Google Translate on the Japanese politeness formula

Arigato often occurs with polite elaborations — a preceding domo or a following gozaimasu, — or both, but arigato on its own is so widely known in European cultures that many who know virtually nothing else in the language know arigato; it’s a rather trendy semi-borrowing, like ciao! or por favor or merci.

Then, we get a Spanish speaker’s analysis of arigato as involving the Spanish noun gato ‘cat’. Add to this the cultural opposition of cats to dogs and the information that perro is the basic vocabulary item for ‘dog’ in Spanish, and you’ll conclude that the canine counterpart of feline ari-gato would be ari-perro.

Performing this analysis requires some knowledge of Spanish, in a way that using arigato does not. The suggestion is then that the source of the joke is in a Spanish-speaking context, for a Spanish-speaking audience.

But if you tell the joke as a purely verbal routine (performed orally, or printed), it’s funny but kind of flat:

A cat says to a dog, “Arigato”. And the dog replies, “Ariperro”.

What the drawing adds is a depiction of a polite interaction between Japanese speakers. The drawing is in manga style, not Western cartoon style, and the cat and dog are bowing to one another. It’s not just a cat and a dog exchanging thank-yous, it’s a very much Japanese cat and a very much Japanese dog exchanging conventional Japanese thank-yous with Japanese body language. That’s a lot funnier than telling the joke as a two-liner. (And it suggests that the artist is Japanese, or at least well-versed in Japanese culture.)

To appreciate that point, contemplate the Mexican cartoonist LaTeso’s version of #1:

(#2) On Twitter on 2/20/19, with the header “Feliz #DiaInternacionalDelGato 🐱”

The participants are a cat and a dog, in Western cartoon style except that the cat has the manga face of the cat in #1. Also, they are thanking us, not each other, and without bows. Except for that face, the animals are like those in other Western drawings of cats and dogs, as in this Spanish translation Gato y Perro of Else Holmelund Minarik’s 1960 children’s book Cat and Dog:

(#3) [from the publisher’s blurb] Adorable story translated to beginning Spanish about a cat and a dog who tease and threaten one another. Each of them warn the other to get off the table, get out of the fountain, etc., but in the end are content with one another and with their happy life.

The dissemination of cultural objects. I’ve been going to some trouble to argue that the object of humor in this case is the cartoon as a whole — the compound of text and artwork, and not just the text (even though the text can be performed, or printed, as a two-line verbal joke). This is important because verbal jokes are cultural objects that, for the most part, can be freely exchanged without any sense of obligation to credit the source; they’re not disseminated like quotations or pieces of popular music, but like proverbs or fairy tales or nursery rhymes, as common cultural property.

There are captioned drawings that are disseminated like jokes, as common cultural property; from my 7/22/15 “Digitally disseminated folklore”

Back in 1975, Alan Dundes and Carl R. Pagter published the first in a series of Urban Folklore From the Paperwork Empire books, in which they catalogued an assortment of material — drawings (most with captions or other text on them) and slogan signs — created by office workers, photographically reproduced, and distributed through office mail. In addition, “dirty” drawings and pictures were passed from hand to hand, just as “dirty” jokes spread by word of mouth. All of this material cycled informally, and (like classic folklore) no one had any real idea where it came from, beyond the person who gave it to you, nor did people care about that.

This dissemination of subterranean cultural material continues, but now mostly by digital means. And at a vastly increased rate. And a fair amount of it is the same stuff that used to be passed around the office.

This stuff is (sometimes) funny, but artless. Work that is evidently the product of an artist is something else entirely. Passing that around without even a credit (much less permission, or paying a fee) is theft: you are distributing stolen artwork. And deserve shaming.

In the case at hand, if you don’t recognize #1 as the work of some specific cartoonist, either you’re an idiot or you’re being willfully ignorant. At the very least, you should make a serious effort to identify the source — a serious effort, not just asking the person you got it from, who’s probably just the most recent receiver of stolen goods that have been passed around through many many hands — and, if you’re unsuccessful, refrain from passing it on (I’ve left a great many delightful cartoons unposted), or, if there’s special value to the cartoon, post it with an explanation of the provenance issue.

I’ve held back on posting #1 for weeks now. It came to me on FB through Bert Vaux, who got it from Stacy Holloway, and back into the mists of the net; Pinterest is heavily involved. Straightforward search attempts unearthed nothing promising, though Ben Zimmer came across a Mexican page with a pointer to an enamel pin version of the cartoon, with the pin site attributing it to the site Fauna Imponente. Alas, Fauna Imponente is itself an aggregation site.

Matters stood at this impasse until this morning, when it occurred to me to do searches with Japanese and Mexican and arigato in them, and they led me to a Mexican #Ariperro aggregation site, which was all about advertisements. And that got me to the Nekori shop in the Zona Dorado of Mazatlán, a Japanese establishment specializing in fancy ice cream and taiyaki waffles. With the cat from #1 as their logo. And with the original of #1:

(#4) Av Camarón Sábalo 400, Zona Dorada, Mazatlán, Sinaloa

Spanish language, Japanese cartooning (for the shop).

Nekori’s enthusiastic ad copy:

En NEKORI, trabajamos arduamente como familia para centrarnos en la calidad y la consistencia de los productos que ofrecemos a nuestra comunidad. Nuestros helados y waffles de taiyaki están hechos con ingredientes de la más alta calidad de proveedores y distribuidores socialmente responsables. Nuestros waffles de taiyaki se hacen frescos en el lugar, y nuestro helado suave se produce y se agita en pequeños lotes para preservar la verdadera integridad de cómo debe saber un verdadero servicio suave. Nos esforzamos por mantener a nuestros clientes felices y satisfechos.

On taiyaki, from Wikipedia:

(#5) Taiyaki being baked

Taiyaki (鯛焼き, literally “baked sea bream”) is a Japanese fish-shaped cake. It imitates the shape of the Tai (Japanese red seabream), which it is named after. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened azuki beans. Other common fillings may be custard, chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato. Some shops even sell taiyaki with okonomiyaki, gyoza filling, or a sausage inside.

Taiyaki is made using regular pancake or waffle batter [waffle batter at Nekori]. The batter is poured into a fish-shaped mold for each side. The filling is then put on one side and the mold is closed. It is then cooked on both sides until golden brown.

And about Mazatlán, from Google Maps:


Mazatlán is a Mexican resort town along the Pacific shoreline in the state of Sinaloa. Sandy beaches line its 21km-long malecón (boardwalk), and it’s renowned for big-game fishing. In its Centro Histórico, or Old Mazatlán, 19th-century landmarks include the performance hall Teatro Ángela Peralta and the towering Immaculate Conception basilica. The modern district of Zona Dorada is known for nightlife and hotels.

And the Japanese in Sinaloa? From Wikipedia:

Japanese immigration to Mexico began in the late 19th century, to found coffee growing plantations in the state of Chiapas. Although this initiative failed, it was followed by greater immigration from 1900 to the beginning of World War II, although it never reached the levels of Japanese immigration to countries like the United States, Brazil or Australia. Immigration halted during World War II and many Japanese nationals and even some naturalized Mexicans citizens of Japanese origin were forced to relocate from communities in Baja California, Sinaloa and Chiapas to Mexico City and other areas in the interior until the war was over. After the war, immigration began again, mostly due to Japanese companies investing in Mexico and sending over skilled employees. Currently, there are an estimated 30,000 people who are Japanese or of Japanese descent in Mexico including a recent migration of young Japanese artists into the country who have found more opportunity there than in their home country.

2 Responses to “Ariperro”

  1. RF Says:

    The cat in #2 is specifically a maneki-neko (Japanese lucky cat figurine).

  2. Ute Limacher-Riebold Says:

    Thank you for the thorough explanation of this Japanese-Spanish joke. As RF said, the cat in #2 is a Japanese lucky cat figurine.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: