The area called OyaShiradzu-KoShiradzu has long been known as a perilous path at
Echigo (NiigataPrefecture) facing to the JapanSea. Tourists should have passed along the
narrow sea shore avoiding a big mountainous mass, and it was sometimes difficult to pass by
because of the high sea. Basho MATSUO, a Haiku poet in the Edo era, also traveled along
this dangerous “thread of sand” in 1689 (just three hundred years before P LOWELL
Nowadays, there are several modern convenient roads for trains and cars with tunnels and
overhead ways drawing arcs over the sea. The main road was first constructed in 1883, and
a railway was penetrated in 1912. Later in 1988, a superhighway was established. However
at the time when LOWELL came down (in 1889), there was no railroad yet here: It was just
a few years passed since the new road was built (in 1883). The portion at the Oya-Shiradzu
spot was at the highest (nearly 88 metres high) of the road.
As to the implication of the nomenclature Oya (parent) Shiradzu-Ko (Child) Shiradzu,
LOWELL himself explains as follows:
A narrow strip of sand was the sole link between Etchiu on the one
hand and Echigo on the other. The natives call the place Oyashiradzu,
koshiradzu, that is, a spot where the father no longer knows the child,
nor the child the father; so obliterating to sense of all beside is the
personal danger. Refuge there is none of any kind. To have been
caught here in a storm on the making tide, must indeed have been to
look death in the face.
Between the devil of a precipice and the deep sea, he who ventured on
the passage must have hurried anxiously along the thread of sand,
hoping to reach the last bend in time.
The teahouse Percival and Yejiro dropped was near the highest point where, looking down
upon the sea over the cliffs on one hand, he had a friendly feeling on the other to the old deaf
lady and her cat who ran the teahouse. In particular the tailless cat “purred about in her
offhand way”and used incidentally LOWELL“as a rubbing post”. LOWELL also wrote
“I was sorry when lunch was over and we took leave of our gentle hostesses; tabbies
both of them, yet no unpleasing pair.”
LOWELL thought the deaf lady looked individual, while the cat was not. The cat
was peculiar since she did not wear a tail, but LOWELL was quite aware that such kinds of
cats were common in several parts of Japan.
was really known at the Meiji era when LOWELL visited Japan the bobtail cats were quite
common. Originally it is said from the genetic point of view the long tail cats
and the bobtail cats are equally found in Japan.
The Japanese pictures until the mid-Edo era showed rather long tail cats, while
from the end of the 18th century (at the end of the Edo era) the Ukiyo-E (Pictures of
the Floating World, according to the translation by Amy
LOWELL) began to prove that more than 70 percent of cats were
the bobtail ones implying that the Edo people began to be very fond of the
bobtail cats rather than the long tail ones and the number of the tailless cats
were increasing. The gene of the Japanese bobtail cat is known to be recessive,
and hence to produce bobtail cats the parents should both be bobtailed, and
thus it is proven that the Edo people must
have tried to do cross–breeding very carefully and patiently.The tail is unique not only to the species, but to
each individual cat. It is known that like human’s finger prints, any two tails
cannot be ever alike.
cat drawn by Hiroshigé
situation should have been the same when LOWELL
visited, but at the end of the Meiji era the circumstances drastically
changed. This was because of the following peculiar affair.
Japanese physician called Shibasaburo KITASATO
(1852-1931) went to Germany
in 1885 to work with Robert KOCH (1843–1910), and he studied the tetanus
bacillus and developed an antitoxin for diphtheria. In 1892 he returned home to
found an Institute for the study of infectious diseases and became its
director. In 1893, he went to Hong-Kong to discover the infectious agent of
bubonic plague, the discovery being his most noted contribution to
bacteriology. In 1899, the plague-bacilli landed on Japan. In 1908 KOCH came to Japan and
recommended, joined by KITASATO, to keep cats every house in order to get rid
of rats. A campaign was of course launched, and thus about 15 thousand western
(long tailed) cats were imported from Germany. Since then the bobtails
have been rather recessed. As for KITASATO and KOCH, see
it is thus rather difficult to find the Japanese pure tailless cats here in Japan, Three
cats that are kept in my house are all hybrid and have long tails. Out of four
cats that are ownerless and sometimes fed under our eaves (chats de gouttière), no more than one has
An interesting aftermath of the Japanese tailless cats has been
told since around 1967 in the US when the Japanese bobtails were first taken
notice by the US influential cat fanciers and three Japanese bobtail cats were
first exported from Japan to the US in 1968, and further eight were known to be
exported. Around the time it was said a total of one hundred bobtails were
eventually exported. They were well cross-bred by the US breeders and
the Japanese bobtails became thus popular in the US. In 1971 they were given
provisional status in The Cat Fanciers’ Association Inc (CFA since 1906)
and were accepted for championship competition in 1976. In 1993 the longhair
Japanese Bobtail was next accepted by CFA. Japanese Bobtails have been liked
since they are healthy and strong. It is said they are active earlier, walk
earlier and start getting into trouble earlier. This breed has a comparatively
low kitten mortal rate and high disease resistance. They are believed
intelligent and talkative cats. Some people say the bobtails almost always
speak when spoken to. Refer to
We should think LOWELL
was very sensitive when, meeting the unfamiliar tailless cat, he wrote in the
following way that the breed “has long since discarded
that really useless feline appendage”without
using a cruel conclusion that the Japanese people used to cut off tails of cats.
The present writer tried to ask Bill SHEEHAN and Sam WHITBY how they felt about
the word “discard” in connection with the suspicion whether or not
LOWELL thought the tail had been cut off artificially. Bill SHEEHAN replied“…sound as if a
short-tailed cat had been selected for and bred for in this part of Japan.
He may have assumed that was the case and a breed like the bobtail existed
here, but unless that's so I assume it may have been customary in this part of
Japan to sever the tails, whether for aesthetic or ritual reasons” and Sam
WHITBY did as follows: “I think that by "discarded" Lowell meant
that cat's had stopped growing tails, which he seemed to find useless anyway.
This is using purposive language to describe a process that Lowell no doubt thought was due to
evolution.” I think SHEEHAN is
right, while I like an idea that Nature has well preserved the spontaneous
variation in an ancient time.
Here we shall try to refer
to a description of the bobtail cats by Lafcadio
HEARN who published this slightly later than LOWELL:
It is true that in Izumo some kittens are born with long tails; but it is very
seldom that they are suffered to grow up with long tails. For the natural
tendency of cats is to become goblins; and this tendency to metamorphosis can
be checked only by cutting off their tails in kittenhood.
Cats are magicians, tails or no tails, and have the power of making corpses
dance. Cats are ungrateful. .... Cats are under a curse: only the cat and the
venomous serpent wept not at the death of Buddah; and
these shall never enter into the bliss of the Gokuraku.
For all these reasons, and others too numerous to relate, cats are not much
loved in Izumo, and are compelled to pass the greater
part of their lives out of doors.
July 1892, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston)
is in the essay “In a JapaneseGarden” and so this
is not exactly any travel sketch, but it is certain that this is information
written for the English speaking foreigners based upon his two year experiences
We should say his eye upon the bobtail cats is quite different than LOWELL’s case. This includes a jumbled statement of what are real
(tailless cats are found in Izumo--ShimanePrefecture), what are not always real
(cats are not so much loved in Izumo), and
what are never real (cats did not weep at the death of Buddah).
It is difficult to believe that the Izumo people at
those times did believe really that cats had the power of making corpse dance.
HEARN proves that he had the power of collecting news materials as a news
reporter, but he did not seem to be involved with any real cat that purred
around him. We should say any Japanese knows well that any cat does not weep if
any person dies. And we should also say that even HEARN did not experience the
scene where any kitten was really being cut off her tail. What are not real
must however be necessary to describe what is not real – cursing.
looks here to collect every fantastic material, while LOWELL looks to have been more interested in
a specific reality, and make a succinct choice.