The Boy Who Drew Cats

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"The Boy Who Drew Cats" (Japanese: 猫を描いた少年 Hepburn: Neko wo egaita shōnen?) is a Japanese fairy tale translated by Lafcadio Hearn, published in 1898 as number 23 of Hasegawa Takejirō's Japanese Fairy Tale Series.[1] It was later included in Hearn's Japanese Fairy Tales.[2]

The original title in Hearn's manuscript was "The Artist of Cats".[1] Printing it on plain paper as in the rest of the series did not meet with Hearns approval, and this book became the first of a five-volume set by Hearn printed on crepe paper.[1] Illustrations were by artist Suzuki Kason (ja).[1]


A farmer and his wife had many children; the youngest son was too small and weak, and spent all his time drawing cats instead of doing his chores. So, they took him to the temple to become a priest. He learned quickly, but he drew cats everywhere. The old priest finally said he could not be a priest, though he might be an artist, and sent him away with the advice to avoid large places at night, and keep to small ones. He decided to go to a big temple nearby and ask them to take him on.

The temple had been deserted, because a goblin-rat had driven the priests away, and warriors who went against it were never seen again. A light burned at the temple at night, so when the boy arrived, he went in. He saw some big white screens and painted cats on them. Then he went to sleep, but, since the temple was large, he found a little cabinet to sleep in since he had remembered the priest's advice. In the night, he heard sounds of fighting, and in the morning, the goblin-rat was dead in the middle of the temple, and all the cats he had painted had mouths wet and red from the blood.

When the priests found out, he was hailed as a hero, and he went on to become a famous artist; one who only painted cats!


"This tale was known from Tohoku to Chugoku and Shikoku regions under the title Eneko to Nezumi (絵猫と鼠 "The Picture-Cats and the Rat"?)[3] In his English edition, Lafcadio Hearn retold it with a thrilling ghostly touch. In the original story, the acolyte becomes the abbot of the temple after the incident, but in Hearn's version, he goes on to be a renowned artist."[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Sharf 1994, p. 46
  2. ^ Lafcadio Hearn, Japanese Fairy Tales, "The Boy Who Drew Cats"
  3. ^ Kang, Jihyun (康 志賢) (2006). "浮世絵に見る『東海道中膝栗毛』滑稽の旅 (特集 旅)" (snippet). Nihon Ukiyoe Kyōkai. Ukiyo-e Art: A Journal of the Japan Ukiyo-e Society (Nihon Ukiyo-e Kyōkai). 151-152: 23. (Japanese)
  4. ^ "The Boy Who Drew Cats". Kyoto University of Foreign Studies Rare Books Exhibition. 2007. Retrieved Dec 2013. 


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