The signature trait of the Japanese Bobtail is its short stubby tail that resembles the tail of a rabbit more so than that of a feline. The tail is a genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene. These cats are the cats of legends in Japan.
The Japanese Bobtail is native to Japan and Southeast Asia, although it is currently found globally. It is a domestic cat with an elegant medium-sized body and a long, lean torso. It is a very proportionate cat, with an equilateral triangle for a head, oval eyes, and ears at perfect right angles to the head. The Japanese Bobtail has a fairly broad muzzle which is not too pointed or too blunt, long slender legs and oval paws. The coat of the Japanese Bobtail can either be short or long, but is always soft and silky. It can be almost any color, but “Mi-ke” (“three fur”, composed of red, black and white coloring) or bi-colored are favored. The most common patterns for the breed are van and calico. Japanese Bobtails are also more likely than other breeds to express differing iris colors, or heterochromia.
The litters of Japanese Bobtails are typically three to four large kittens. These kittens are active earlier than the litters of other breeds and walk earlier. This breed loves to supervise its owner and be in close proximity. They are said by some to sing, with their soft voices capable of nearly a whole scale of tones, and they almost always “speak” when spoken to by their owners.
The Japanese Bobtail is mentioned in many Japanese works of literature. The earliest written evidence of cats in Japan is from 1602, when the Japanese authorities ordered all cats be set free to take care of the rodents that threatened their silk-worms. Bobtails became the “street cats” of Japan. The cat is mentioned in several other literary works as well, including Kaempfer’s Japan.
A Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, or the maneki-neko is considered a good luck charm. A statue of this figure is often found in storefronts and in homes.
There is also, of course, a legend about why the Japanese Bobtail lost its tail. The legend states that when a cat was warming itself near a fire, it got too close, and set its tail on fire. It proceeded to run through the town, burning many buildings to the ground. To punish the cat, the Emperor ordered that all cats should have their tails cut off.
Another legend that could have influenced the Bobtail’s short tail is the legend of the bakeneko or nekomata, a cat that when its tail grew too long, it became a double tail. With the tail came powers like shape-shifting, talking, walking on its hind legs, and resurrecting the dead. Japanese people may have started cutting their cats tails to avoid them becoming a bakeneko.