Female Japanese Bobtail
|Domestic cat (Felis catus)|
The Japanese Bobtail is a breed of domestic cat with an unusual "bobbed" tail more closely resembling the tail of a rabbit than that of other cats. The variety is native to Japan and Southeast Asia, though it is now found throughout the world. The breed has been known in Japan for centuries, and it frequently appears in traditional folklore and art.
As in most other breeds, Japanese Bobtails may have almost any color (or colors, arranged in any number of patterns). Predominantly-white calicoes (三毛 mi-ke?, literally 'triple-hair') are especially favored by the Japanese and by cat fanciers, and strongly represented in folklore, though other colorations are also accepted by breed standards.
One theory of short-tailed cats in Japan indicates that they arrived from the Asian continent at least 1,000 years ago. In 1602, Japanese authorities decreed that all cats should be set free to help deal with rodents threatening the silk worms. At that time, buying or selling cats was illegal, and from then on, bobtailed cats lived on farms and in the streets. Japanese Bobtails thus became the "street cats" of Japan.
Around 1701, in Kaempfer's Japan, the first book written by a Westerner about the flora, fauna, and landscape of Japan, German doctor Engelbert Kaempfer wrote, "there is only one breed of cat that is kept. It has large patches of yellow, black and white fur; its short tail looks like it has been bent and broken. It has no mind to hunt for rats and mice but just wants to be carried and stroked by women."
In 1968, Elizabeth Freret is the first known person to have imported the Japanese Bobtail to the Western Hemisphere from Japan. The short hair Japanese Bobtail was accepted for Championship status in the Cat Fanciers' Association in 1976. Recognition for the long hair variety followed in 1993. As of 2013, there are a number of Japanese Bobtail breeders, most of which are based in North America with a few in Europe and at least one in Japan; yet the breed remains rare.
- The standard described below is a generalized summary - links for each registration authority standard are provided in the breed infobox at the top of the article.
The Japanese Bobtail is a recognised breed by all major registering bodies, with the exception of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF, the domestic registry of the United Kingdom.
- Head: The head should form an equilateral triangle. (Not including ears)
- Ears: Large, upright, set wide apart but at right angles to the head and looking as if alert.
- Muzzle: Fairly broad and round neither pointed nor blunt.
- Eyes: Large, oval rather than round. They should not bulge out beyond the cheekbone or the forehead.
- Body: Medium in size, males larger than females. Long torso, lean and elegant, showing well developed muscular strength. Balance is also very important.
- Neck: Not too long and not too short, in proportion to the length of the body.
- Legs: Long, slender, and high. The hind legs longer than the forelegs.
- Paws: Oval.
- Toes: five in front and four behind.
- Coat (Shorthair): Medium length, soft and silky.
- Coat (Longhair): Length medium-long to long, texture soft and silky gradually lengthening toward the rump.
- Tail: The tail must be clearly visible and is made up of one or more curved articulations.
Breeding and genetics
The short tail is a cat body-type mutation caused by the expression of a recessive gene. Generally, all kittens born to two bobtail parents will have bobtails as well, but progeny of only one bobtailed parent are much less likely to possess the trait. Unlike the dominant Manx gene, the Bobtail gene is not associated with skeletal disorders. The Bobtail gene only affects the number of tail vertebrae present.
See also Cat body-type mutation#Tail types
Recent scientific studies on cat genetics led by researchers has indicated that the Japanese Bobtail breed ranks amongst one of the most genetically diverse of pedigree breeds. Compared with other breeds, Japanese Bobtails tend to have smaller litters with the kittens being proportionally larger at birth and developing at a faster rate. Kitten mortality rates are reported to be comparatively low.
Rarely, a Japanese Bobtail, especially a predominantly white specimen, may have heterochromia, or eyes of different colors. Regardless of breed, cats with this trait are known as odd-eyed cats. In this breed, one iris is blue ("silver" in Japanese breeding terms) while the other is yellow ("gold"). This trait is more common in this breed than in most others, with the notable exception of the Turkish Van. In the Japanese Bobtail, this trait is popular and kittens displaying it usually are more expensive.
Generally speaking, members of the breed are active, intelligent cats, with a strongly human-oriented nature, are easier to train to perform tricks than most breeds, and are more likely to enjoy learning human-mediated activities like walking on a harness and leash, and playing fetch. They are very attentive, alert felines that notice a lot. Considered an unusually "talkative" breed, they often interact vocally with people. Their soft voices are capable of nearly a whole scale of tones, leading to a folk belief that they can sing. Many owners also report a fondness for water, although this is not considered a breed-specific trait.
Folklore and legend
Cats feature prominently in Japanese folklore. As in many other traditions around the world, cats are frequently objects of fear and mistrust, with various supernatural abilities ascribed to them. But in some Japanese stories, the length of their tails is an important plot point, with the Japanese Bobtail seen as auspicious, while long-tailed cats may be suspected of being nekomata, a type of evil spirit.
The maneki neko ("beckoning cat" or "inviting cat"), an image of a Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, is considered a good-luck charm among the Japanese around the world, who often keep a statue of this figure in the front of stores or homes (most often a stylized calico, though gold and black variants are also common). This stems from a legend that tells how a man (usually either a priest or member of the royal family) who owned one of these cats looked up one day to see his cat beckoning to him. Thinking the cat might have a message from the gods, he arose and went to it; no sooner had he done so than a branch large enough to kill a man fell where he had been sitting just moments before. Japanese Bobtails also feature prominently in traditional Japanese painting.
One legend of the origin of the breed's short tail, tells of a sleeping cat whose long tail caught fire; it then ran through town, spreading flames everywhere. With the capital in ashes, the Emperor decreed that all cats should have their tails cut short as a preventative measure.
While legends and superstitions may have favored the short-tailed breed, it seems likely that the Bobtail simply has a longer history in Japan than other recognizable breeds. It is also likely to have carried much prestige, having originated on the continent and arrived via Korea in the Asuka period (6th century CE), along with other prized articles of Chinese culture.
In popular culture
The manga character Hello Kitty resembles a Japanese Bobtail, and is an exemplar of contemporary kawaii ("cute") pop culture. The character Muta from The Cat Returns was based upon a stray Japanese Bobtail that would often visit Studio Ghibli. They also tend to appear in other anime produced in Japan.
In W Is for Wasted, by Sue Grafton (part of her alphabet mystery series), private investigator Kinsey Millhone and her landlord Henry Pitts acquire a Japanese bobtail and name him Ed. During a fight with a deranged murder suspect, Ed scratches the killer, thereby saving Kinsey from death by scalpel.
Mochi, Hiro Hamada's cat in the Disney film Big Hero 6, is also a Japanese Bobtail.
- Fogle, Bruce (October 1, 1997). Encyclopedia of the Cat. "Japanese Bobtail" entry. ISBN 0-7894-1970-X.
- "Breed Profile: Japanese Bobtail". CFAInc.org. Cat Fancier's Association. Retrieved 12 November 2013.
- Japanese Bobtail FAQ
- Grafton, Sue. (2013). "W" is for Wasted. G.P. Putnam.
Media related to Japanese Bobtail at Wikimedia Commons