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The Japanese Bobtail is a breed of cat with an unusual 'bobbed' tail more closely resembling the tail of a rabbit than that of an ordinary feline. The short tail is a cat body type genetic mutation caused by the expression of a recessive gene. Thus, so long as both parents are bobtails, all kittens born to a litter will have bobtails as well.
The Japanese Bobtail is a small domestic cat native to Japan and Southeast Asia, though it is now found throughout the world. The breed has been known in Japan for centuries, and there are many stories, as well as pieces of ancient art, featuring it.
Japanese bobtails may have almost any color, but calicoes are especially favoured by the Japanese. Much like any other breed, the colors may be arranged in any number of patterns, with van patterns and calico being common among purebred versions, though other colorations are included.
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 said that all cats should be set free to help deal with rodents threatening the silk-worms. 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.
The Japanese Bobtail is mentioned in Kaempfer's Japan. First published in London at the beginning of the 1700's, it is the first book written by a Westerner about the flora, fauna, and landscape of Japan. Engelbert Kaempfer, a German doctor, 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."
The Maneki Neko, or beckoning cat, has a Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, is considered to be a good-luck charm. A maneki neko statue is often found in the front of stores or homes. The character Hello Kitty is likewise a Japanese Bobtail, and is a staple of contemporary kawaii culture.
In 1968, the late Elizabeth Freret imported the first three Japanese Bobtails to the United States from Japan. Japanese Bobtails were accepted for Championship status in Cat Fanciers' Association in 1976. In 2001, the first registered litter of Japanese Bobtails was born in the UK under the Solstans prefix.
Legend and lore
As in cultures around the world, cats feature prominently in Japanese folklore. As in other traditions, cats are frequently objects of fear and mistrust, with numerous supernatural abilities ascribed to them. In some such stories, the length of their tails is an important plot point.
One legend 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 all cats should have their tails cut short as a preventative measure.
Long-tailed cats may further come under suspicion of becoming a kind of bakemono called nekomata, a cat who after a certain period of time grows a double tail, and gains the ability to walk around on its hind legs, shape-shift, and enchant human beings, much like the magical kitsune.
Bakeneko sometimes loyally serve their masters and mistresses—even protecting them from beyond the grave—but are more usually menacing, even murderous creatures, as in the story of the "Vampire Cat of Nabeshima". The titular "vampire cat" is a nekomata who kills and impersonates a beloved spouse, then proceeds to drain the life of her lord and husband.
On the flip side, the auspicious maneki neko (literally, "inviting cat"), a fixture in Japanese business places around the world, usually depicts a bob-tailed cat, typically of the calico coloring.
It's possible legends and superstitions may have favored the short-tailed breed at one time or another, but it seems likely the bobtail simply has a longer history than other breeds in Japan. It is also likely to have carried much prestige, having originated on the Asian continent and arrived via Korea in the sixth century, along with other prized articles of Chinese culture.
The standard described below is a general description of the breed standard - links for each registration authority's exact details 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.
A show-quality shorthair Japanese bobtail displays the characteristics of the breed.*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 towards the rump.
- Tail: The tail must be clearly visible and is made up of one or more curves.
Japanese Bobtails usually have litters of three to four kittens with newborns that are unusually large, compared to other breeds. They are active earlier, and walk earlier. Affectionate and generally sweet-tempered, they enjoy supervising household chores and baby-sitting. They are active, intelligent, talkative cats with a well-defined sense of family life. Their soft voices are capable of nearly a whole scale of tones; some people say they sing. Since they adore human companionship they almost always speak when spoken to, and sometimes carry on "conversations" with their owners. Because of their human-oriented personality they are easy to teach tricks and enjoy learning things like walking on a harness and lead, and playing fetch.
The shortened tail does not pose the serious health problems that it does in other breeds such as the Manx.
Normal eyed cat and odd-eyed cat. Rarely, a Japanese Bobtail, especially a predominantly white specimen, may have eyes of mismatched colors. Regardless of breed, cats with this trait are known as odd-eyed cats. In this breed, one iris is blue while the other is yellow. (In Japan, blue is referred to as silver while yellow is referred to as 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.