Bobtail Cat


Japanese here


While we were still in the way with these pious folk we touched our
 midday halt, a wayside teahouse notched in a corner of the road
 commanding a panoramic view over the sea. The place was kept by a
 deaf old lady and her tailless cat. The old lady's peculiarity was
 personal; the cat's was not. No self-respecting cat in this part of Japan
 could possibly wear a tail. The northern branch of the family has long
 since discarded that really useless feline appendage. A dog in like
 circumstance would be sadly straitened in the expression of his emotions, 
but a cat is every whit a cat without a continuation.
Percival LOWELL “NOTO” VII. Oya Shiradzu, Ko Shiradzu 

The area called Oya Shiradzu-Ko Shiradzu has long been known as a perilous path at 
Echigo (Niigata Prefecture) facing to the Japan Sea. 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, 
ko shiradzu, 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.


It 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 fou nd 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.

Above: Bobtail cat drawn by Hiroshigé


The 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.


A 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


Nowadays 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 a bobtail. 

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.

(published July 1892, The Atlantic Monthly, Boston)


This is in the essay “In a Japanese Gardenand 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 in Japan. 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--Shimane Prefecture), 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.


HEARN looks here to collect every fantastic material, while LOWELL looks to have been more interested in a specific reality, and make a succinct choice.

Masatsugu MINAMI, CMO Fukui

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