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 Hearn's 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 has many children, who are all hard-working, except for his youngest, who is small and weak and only interested in drawing pictures of cats. He decides his son is not cut out to be a farmer, and sends him to a temple to study with a priest. The boy spends all his time drawing cats instead of studying. The priest tells him he's better suited to being an artist and should return home. As he sends him on his way, the priest warns the boy: "Avoid large places at night. Keep to the small."

Ashamed of being dismissed, the boy decides not to return to his father's farm. Instead, he travels to another temple in the hopes he can ask for a night's shelter, not realizing all the priests living there have long-ago been driven away by a giant goblin-rat. When the boy arrives, he finds the place deserted and decides to draw cats on the walls. As he begins to feel tired, he remembers the old priest's words and climbs inside a little cabinet to go to sleep.

During the night he hears horrible sounds of screaming and fighting. When morning comes and he finally climbs out, he discovers the corpse of the goblin-rat. As he wonders what could have killed it, he notices that all his cats now have blood on their mouths. He is hailed as a hero for defeating the monster, and grows up to be a famous artist - one who only draws 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 (in Japanese). Nihon Ukiyo-e Kyōkai. 151-152: 23. 
  4. ^ "The Boy Who Drew Cats". Kyoto University of Foreign Studies Rare Books Exhibition. 2007. Retrieved Dec 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)


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