Japanese Bobtail Cat – Breeds cat with a Unique Tail
Some are curved. Some are kinked. Some wiggle; others are stiff. It might resemble a pompom, or it might look like a shaving brush. Each is utterly unique, such as a snowflake or a fingerprint.
Named for its inimitable posterior, the Japanese bobtail cat is distinguished by its curled tail, which is unparalleled not only to the breed but to each individual cat. In this world of scientific breeding, where all manner of genetic derivations are becoming increasingly common in cat breeding, the Japanese bobtail cat is no Johnny-come-lately. The breed has been sporting its distinctive tail for at least a thousand years.
Japanese woodcuts and paintings depicting cats similar to the Japanese bobtail cat appear in Japanese temples dating to the sixth century. Other breed historians suggest the cats first arrived in the country around the 10th century at the instigation of the cat-loving Japanese Emperor Ichijo.
Although now thought of as exclusively Japanese, this ancient breed appears to have originally occurred in many areas of the Far East. A cat known as the Malay cat, whose description is virtually identical to the Japanese bobtail’s, was identified in parts of Burma (modern-day Myanmar) and Siam (Thailand).
Clearly, however, the Japanese celebrated and prized the kinked-tail cat in a way other Eastern cultures did not. The bobtail has been depicted in Japanese artworks from numerous centuries, the most famous of which is 19th-century artist Ando Hiroshige’s famous woodcut “Cat in Window.”
The bobtailed cats may have gained favor in Japan thanks to an ancient folktale that suggests that long-tailed cats can change into human form and bewitch their owners. Perhaps that myth helps explain the folk story which describes how the bobtail developed its unique appendage. According to this legend, the tail of a sleeping cat was caught on fire by a spark from the nearby hearth. The frightened cat ran through the streets of Japan’s Imperial City, lighting all the houses on fire. The next morning, his city destroyed, the Emperor decreed that all cats must have their tails cut short to prevent a similar disaster.
In contrast to their long-tailed cousins, bobtailed cats developed a reputation for good luck. Maneki-Neko is a famous female bobtailed cat from Japanese folklore whose greeting conferred good fortune passersby. A famous depiction of Maneki-Neko with one paw raised in welcome appears on the Gotojkuki Temple near Tokyo. Even today, Mi-Ke bobtails – white cats with patches of black and reddish brown; Mi-ke translates to three-colored – are still believed to bring good fortune and are often depicted in Japanese folk art. Old Maneki-Neko herself is typically depicted sporting the Mi-ke pattern.
As beautiful and graceful symbols of good fortune, bobtails remained the exclusive pets of the Imperial Family and other Japanese nobility, who used to walk the cats on a collar and lead. When the silk trade gained importance in the Japanese economy, however, the government decided that the noble bobtail cats should be set free to hunt the mice that threatened to destroy the silkworms and their cocoons, from which the precious silk was harvested. Depending on the source, this decree occurred at some point between the 13th and 17th centuries. The Japanese bobtail cat was now a street cat rather than a pampered pet, and it became widely known as the Kazoku Neko – the family cat of Japan.
Even today Japanese bobtails cats are as likely to be found roaming the streets and alleys of Japan, or happily inhabiting one of the country’s many temples, as in Japanese homes. Until recently, the breed was considered a common domestic in Japan, much like our American Shorthair was considered a domestic here for many years, rather than a purebred cat. When Americans began including Japanese bobtails in their cat shows during the 1960s, the Japanese followed suit and established breeding programs. Whether purebred or not, the bobtail is still considered a popular symbol of Japanese society, and figurines of Makeki-Neko are available in many Japanese stores.
Japanese bobtail cat – Oriental Secret
The bobtail remained a secret of Japan for centuries. The first documented Japanese bobtail cat was imported into the United States from Japan in 1908, but the breed remained largely unknown in the United States until the 1940s, when American GIs serving in the force that occupied Japan following World War II began to bring them home in large numbers.
A formal breeding program was not developed in America until 1968. That year American Judy Crawford, who had been living in Japan for 15 years and who had been breeding Japanese bobtails cats for most of that time, sent a pair to Elizabeth Freret in the United States. The pair consisted of tortoiseshell and a white female called Madame Butterfly and a red and white male called Richard.
Freret bred the pair and began showing their kittens in 1969. Crawford returned to the United States with 38 of the cats she had bred in Japan. The breed quickly developed a following and the International Japanese Bobtail cat Fanciers Association was formed in 1970. The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) accepted the breed for registration a year earlier, in 1969, thanks largely to the work of Freret. In 1971 the breed was granted CFA provisional status, followed by championship status in 1976. All the major cat associations accept the breed for championship status, although the bobtail is still relatively uncommon compared to popular breeds such as the Siamese and Persian.
East Meets West – Japanese bobtails Cats
The Japanese and other inhabitants of the Far East may be known for their placid, inscrutable demeanors, but the Japanese bobtails Cats defy these cultural stereotypes. They’re typically bold cats that adjust well to new situations, people and animals. This amiable disposition is a definite attribute in the show ring – in 1999 a Japanese bobtail named Nobu, after a character in Arthur Golden’s bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha won the best in show trophy at the prestigious International Cat Show held in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Intelligent and alert, bobtails make outstanding companions. Most breed members seek involvement with their owners. Their play is interactive, and they often communicate through a chirping voice that produces a wide range of tones often described as “singing” or a “melodious chant.”
Kittens usually come in litters of three to four and are typically larger than newborns of other breeds. Japanese bobtail kittens are often more active much earlier in life than kittens of other breeds.
Adult bobtails are medium-sized cats with strong, well-muscled bodies that appear lean and slender rather than bulky. Their triangular heads feature a long, well-defined nose and large, upright ears that are set wide apart. The soft, silky coat of the shorthair bobtail is medium in length without a noticeable undercoat. The coat is medium to long, soft and silky. Breed standards permit any color except the Siamese pattern or Abyssinian type agouti. As in Japan, the Mi-ke pattern of mostly white with bold patches of red and black is preferred in most show circles.
Of course, no description of the Japanese bobtail Cat is complete without an account of the tail, and it is here that this tale ends. Composed of one or more curves, angles, kinks or any combination thereof, the tail is created by a simple recessive gene which breeds true in any bobtail-to-bobtail cross. The genetic factor which created the Japanese bobtail Cat is completely different from the Manx, a naturally tailless cat, and doesn’t appear to be associated with any genetic defects. The tail is usually 2 to 4 inches long, though the curls and kinks make it appear shorter, and covered in hair that is longer than that on the body, adding distinct shape to the already twisted form. In Japan, where the breed is a centuries-old mainstay, few give second-thought to the abbreviated appendage, but here in the United States the cat’s posterior still generates raised eyebrows, making this friendly, beautiful cat a distinctive and treasured gift from the Orient.
Longhair Japanese Bobtails Cats
Given the Japanese bobtails centuries-long existence as a common street cat, the breed likely acquired the gene for long hair somewhere along the bloodline. Longhaired bobtails were not common in Japan, but they are depicted in early Japanese artwork, suggesting they were known in the country for as long as the shorthaired version. Evidence suggests longhaired bobtails were most prevalent in Japan’s northern islands, where their coat was better suited to the colder climate.
Today a longhair version of the breed has been accepted and is recognized by the CFA, The International Cat Association, the American Cat Association, and other major associations. Since the longhair gene is recessive, two copies of it must be present in a cat for the trait to be expressed. For that reason, the longhair gene can be passed for many generations before manifesting. Even when both parents possess the gene, the ratio of shorthaired over longhaired offspring is approximately 3 to 1.
Two Cultures, One Problem
Japanese and American cultures are often at odds, but we seem to share a love for companion animals, as well as a penchant for neglect. Japan’s population ranks ninth among the nations of the world, but the country is fourth in cat population, with more than 8 million feline residents. The only country that outspends Japan on drugs and food additives for animals is the United States, and judging by the extent to which the Japanese are willing to pamper their pets, Japan stands second to none in its regard for cats and dogs. Many Japanese pets have their own water beds and gold jewelry; a number of resorts offer special menus and sleeping facilities for dogs and cats.
Despite these outward trappings of indulgence, “it’s difficult to view the conditions for dogs and cats in Japan as ideal,” wrote Japan Times Weekly in its February 1998 international edition. “While people spend a fortune on pedigree pets and many shed a tear over the tale of a loyal dog, a large number of dogs and cats are abandoned annually. At least 414,506 dogs and 307,626 cats were put down by local municipalities throughout Japan” in 1995, accounting for 88 percent of dogs and 98 percent of cats gathered at pounds. Although saddening, these figures still pale in comparison to the United States’. The Humane Society of the United States estimates 8 to 10 million cats and dogs enter United States shelters each year; approximately half of that number is euthanized.