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 or bi-colors are especially favoured by the Japanese. Much like any other breed, the colors may be arranged in any number of patterns, with van and calico being common among purebred cats, though other colorations are also accepted.
The earliest written evidence of cats in Japan indicates that they arrived from China at least 1,000 years ago. In 1602, Japanese authorities decreed 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 in 1701/02, 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 ("beckoning cat"), a Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, is considered a good-luck charm. A maneki-neko statue is often found in the front of stores or homes. 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 CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) in 1976. In 2001 the first registered litter of Japanese Bobtails was born in the UK under the Solstans prefix.
There is a legend in Japan about why the Japanese Bobtail lost its tail. It states that a cat was warming itself too close to a fire, and set its tail on fire. It then ran through the town, burning many buildings to the ground. As punishment, the Emperor decreed that all cats should have their tails cut off.
Bobtails could have also surged after the legend of the bakeneko, or nekomata, a cat that when its tail grew too much, became a double-tail. The cat would get powers such as talking, walking on its back legs, and shapeshifting. The bakeneko could cause massive disturbances and even resurrect dead people. Japanese people may have started cutting their cat's tails to avoid them becoming a bakeneko.
Another legend relating to Japanese Bobtails is the following story: At the beginning of Edo period (17th century), there was a rundown temple in Setagaya, western part of Tokyo. The priest of the temple kept a pet cat, named Tama, and he sometimes complained to Tama about his poor situation: "Tama, I'm keeping you in spite of my poverty. So couldn't you do something for this temple?"
One day, Naotaka Ii, who was the lord of Hikone district (western part of Japan near Kyoto), was caught in a rain shower near the temple on his way home from hunting. While avoiding the rain under a big tree in front of the temple, Naotaka noticed that a cat was inviting him to the temple gate. As soon as he left the tree after being beckoned by the cat's gesture, the tree was struck by lighting. The cat, which proved to be Tama, saved Naotaka’s life.
Following the incident, Naotaka became closer to the priest of the temple. The rundown temple was appointed to be the Ii's family temple, and changed its name to Goutokuji. As a result of being backed by the Ii clan, Goutokuji became prosperous. Tama saved Naotaka from lighting, and saved the temple from its poverty at the same time.
After its death, Tama was buried at Goutokuji's cat cemetery with all due respect, and Manekineko was invented to commemorate Tama.
Links to breed standard:
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.
A similar breed of cat is in development in the United States as breeders attempt to perfect the "American Bobtail Cat" that would have a tail half the length of other breeds, though there has not been definitive progress in getting a new breed recognized yet.
While rare, Japanese Bobtails, especially predominantly white specimens, are more likely than other breeds to express heterochromia, or differing iris colors. One eye will be blue while the other is yellow (though in Japan, blue is referred to as silver while yellow is referred to as gold). This trait is popular and kittens displaying this "odd-eye" feature are usually more expensive.