Japanese Bobtail Cats
Ancient Street Cat is a Legend
The Japanese bobtail cat holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese. Ceramic statues of the breed—considered a good luck charm—may often greet visitors in storefronts and homes, one paw raised to beckon or invite guests inside.
The gesture is appropriate for the short-tailed cat, which thrives on companionship and enjoys entertaining friends and family.
According to Japanese folklore, a Japanese bobtail cat’s tail caught on fire while it was sleeping. Alarmed, the cat ran through the village and began spreading the fire with every flick of its tail. Once the village was reduced to ashes, the Japanese emperor insisted that all cats’ tails should be shortened to prevent a repeat disaster.
Another Japanese folklore tells the story of Maneki-Neko, a female Japanese bobtail who would sit outside the doorways of village businesses. Using a front paw, Maneki-Neko would beckon passersby inside, at which time business would successfully be conducted. Maneki-Neko quickly became associated with good fortune; she now appears on the façade of Tokyo’s Gotokuji Temple, welcoming visitors.
The breed is thought to be one of the oldest, possibly dating back to the sixth century (538-710), during Japan’s Asuka period. The Japanese bobtail was set free on the streets to hunt for rodents which threatened Japan’s silkworm population.
The breed was first mentioned by a Westerner in Engelbert Kaempfer’s Kaempfer’s Japan circa 1701, in which Kaempfer notices that the Japanese bobtail has a “bent and broken” tail and is the only cat carried and affectionately cared for by the Japanese. During this time, the breed appeared in Japanese woodcut prints and on silkscreen paintings.
The Japanese bobtail cat became a treasured possession in the Japanese culture, even becoming the prized pet of the Imperial family for several centuries. It wasn’t until 1908 when several of the cats were brought out of Japan to the United States by American servicemen. In 1968, American breeder Elizabeth Freret imported three Japanese bobtails and began breeding them to standards. To this day, there are only a limited amount of Japanese bobtail cat breeders located outside of Japan.
Japanese bobtail cats are very people-oriented, happy to share the company of their human companions. As a result, the breed has shown an affinity to be a people-pleaser, agreeing to be walked on a leash, perform tricks akin to a dog and even “chatting” up a conversation.
This intelligent breed likes to keep moderately busy (sometimes indulging in mischievous acts such as hoarding shiny objects) and also enjoys the companionship of other pets. Described as an easygoing cat, the Japanese bobtail is an ideal family addition for those who like daily interaction with furry companions.
True to its namesake, the breed has a bobbed tail, caused by a mutated, or recessive, gene. No two tails are alike. The tail is sometimes described as one similar to a rabbit’s, or referred to as a “pom-pom.” The tail itself curls into a corkscrew, making it appear even shorter. The average length of a Japanese bobtail cat’s tail is four inches.
Japanese bobtail cats are medium-size breeds with a lean frame. The breed’s fur coat can be nearly any wide range of color or pattern, although a predominantly white coat with a calico pattern—representative of the breed’s folklore—is a popular choice for cat fanciers. Although considered rare, predominantly white Japanese bobtail cats can be born with heterochromia—when each eye is a different color, otherwise known as “odd-eye cats.” One eye is amber gold while the other is a silvery blue.
A Japanese bobtail cat has either a short to medium length coat or a long-haired coat, each with a soft, silky texture.
The Japanese bobtail cat is considered to be a rather healthy and hearty cat; while all cat breeds can potentially develop health problems—most commonly renal failure, hyperthyroidism and diabetes, this breed is not known to have any genetic health issues.
The bobbed tail of the breed does not make it any more likely to develop spina bifida than any other cat breed. The mutated gene only affects the number of vertebrae present in the cat’s spine.
As with any pet, be sure to regularly consult a veterinarian for routine care and medical advice for your four-legged friend.