Friday 24 October 2008

Japanese domestic cat

Japanese Bobtail cat - photo copyright Helmi Flick - see a large version

The Japanese domestic cat is seen as the Japanese Bobtail cat, at least the purebred version. But do all Japanese cats have short tails? The answer must be a definitive no, particularly as the best stray cat photographer in the business, MAR, has let me publish some of his photographs on the website; see stray cat picture - these are all Japanese cats and no bobtails (or at least very few). Apparently, you can see stray cats in the forest of Yanbaru and in sub-tropical Okinawa and also Tokyo's commercial Ginza district and an island called Teuri off northern Hokkaido.

OK, so what about the Japanese domestic cat? Japanese people have kept domestic cats for centuries. People have speculated that the domestic cat came to Japan around AD 540. Imaizumi Tadaaki, a Japanese guy (I presume) writing for, says that the domestic cat was introduced into Japan at the same time as Buddhism. The idea was to use cats to protect the Buddhists' texts from being damaged by mice and rodents.

He says that, genetically, the indications are that the domestic cat was introduced to Japan from China. China having been introduced to the domestic cat from India. I am not sure about this. India in the 21st century still regards the domestic cat with suspicion and there a few cat companions in Indian households today (see cat lovers in India). There is no history of the domestic cat in India as there is, for example, in England.

Apparently, the first written evidence of the presence of the Japanese domestic cat in Japan is in the diary of Emperor Uda (867-931). The cat was brought from China and was black. Further written evidence of the presence of the Japanese domestic cat can be found in ancient records concerning Emperor Ichijo (980-1011). The cat's name was Myobu no Otodo. This means "Chief Lady-in-Waiting of the Inner Palace".

Further evidence is in a drawing of a cat by Toba no Sojo (1053-1140). The drawing is of three cats with normal length tails. At this time, almost 1000 years ago the Japan domestic cat was, it seems, becoming more commonly encountered.

In the 18th century due to a genetic mutation cats with short tails become more common (this idea conflicts a little with the conventional view that the Japanese Bobtail cat was around from the 5th century). It seems that the short tailed cat became synonymous with Japan over the intervening 200 years. An area, in Japan, where they seem to have been more common was Naniwa (Osaka).

Imaizumi Tadaaki calls the Japanese Bobtail "genetically inferior" and he is correct. The Japanese Bobtail became less ubiquitous in Japan against the importation of breeds from the west after WWII. It is in the west, particularly America, where the breed has been revived. This cat breed is no a very glamorous show cat.

Japanese domestic cat to domestic cat

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