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Nekomata

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Nekomata walking on its hind legs, illustrated by Toriyama Sekien.

A bakeneko (化け猫?, "monster cat") is, in Japanese folklore, a cat with supernatural abilities akin to those of the fox or raccoon dog. A cat may become a bakeneko in a number of ways: it may reach a certain age, be kept for a certain number of years, grow to a certain size, or be allowed to keep a long tail. In the last case, the tail forks in two and the bakeneko is then called a nekomata (猫又?, ,猫叉, or 猫股 "forked cat"). This superstition may have some connection to the breeding of the Japanese Bobtail.

A bakeneko will haunt any household it is kept in, creating ghostly fireballs, menacing sleepers, walking on its hind legs, changing its shape into that of a human, and even devouring its own mistress in order to shapeshift and take her place. When it is finally killed, its body may be as much as five feet in length. It also poses a danger if allowed into a room with a fresh corpse; a cat is believed to be capable of reanimating a body by jumping over it.

Bakeneko

In Japanese folklore, any cat that lives over thirteen years old, reaches one kan (eight pounds) in weight or is allowed to keep a long tail can become a bake-neko ( 化け猫 ) or Ghost Cat (Addis 2001). A bake-neko is a cat that gains paranormal powers after certain circumstances. The breeding of the Japanese Bobtail may have some connection with this superstition. After a bake-neko tail grows long enough it forks into two tail then the bake-neko is no longer called a bake-neko, but a neko-mata. Other forms of bake-neko are Maneki-neko (Addis 2001). Most of the stories about the bake-neko are told orally in Japan.

History

In the early 17th century the Japanese used cats to kill off the rats and mice that were threatening the silkworms. During this time it was illegal to buy or sell cats. Most of the cats in Japan were set free to roam around the cities. Stories about these street cats became legends over time. There are many stories about the supernatural abilities of the bake-neko: talking, walking on their two rear legs, shapeshifting, and even resurrecting the dead. Because of the stories about the bake-neko the Japanese people may cut their cat’s tail off to stop them from becoming a bake-neko. Cats that were caught drinking lamp oil were also considered to be bake-nekos. Cats may have regularly been caught drinking lamp oil due to the fact that old fashion lamp oil was made from fish.

Description

The bake-neko looks like an ordinary cat; however, a bake-neko can walk on his two rear legs, talk and assume human form. It is said that when the bake-neko tail grows long enough its tail can fork in two, the bake-neko is then called a neko-mata or forked tail.

Legends

There are many legends about the bake-neko. One in particular may have given birth to the Japanese Bobtail. As the legend goes, a cat was warming itself near the fire and set its tail on fire. The long-tail cat then ran through the town burning many buildings to the ground. For retribution the Emperor decreed that all cats should have their tails cut off.

Another famous bake-neko story is about a man named Takasu Genbei, whose mother’s personality changed completely after his pet cat went missing for many years. His mother avoided the company of friends and family and would take her meals alone in her room. When the family peeked in on her they saw a cat like a monster in the mother's clothes, chewing on animal carcasses. Takasu, still skeptical, slew what looked like his mother and after one day his mother's body turned back into his pet cat that had been missing.

Not all bake-neko are bad; in some stories they are faithful and good-hearted to their owners; three stories in particular tie benevolent bakeneko to the legend of the maneki neko. One such story is about a bake-neko named Tama. Tama's owner was a very poor priest who lived in a rundown temple in Setagaya, west of Tokyo. The priest would tell Tama, “I’m keeping you in spite of my poverty, so couldn’t you do something for this temple?” One day the lord of the Hikone district, Naotaka, was standing under a big tree in front of the temple to avoid the rain. Naotaka become aware of a cat calling him to the temple gate. As he begins to walk to the temple gate the tree was struck by lighting. The cat who called out to Naotaka was Tama. After the incident, Naotaka became friends with the priest of the temple. Naotaka chose the temple to be the family temple and change its name to Goutokuji. Because of Tama's help the priest became prosperous.

Another good bake-neko story is about a cat whose owner was a high-ranking geisha. Every time she would try to go to the toilet, the cat would claw at her robes to keep her away from the toilet. Because of the cat’s strange behavior the geisha killed it. After that she proceeded to the toilet. As she begin to use the toilet, the ghost of the cat bit to death the snake that was lurking near the toilet, saving its owner from harm.

Sometimes the bake-neko had the power to enter someone’s dreams. There is a story about a bake-neko who entered her owner's dream to tell her to manufacture its image in clay in order to bring her wealth. Other stories tell about how a bake-neko may sometimes shape-shift into a beautiful girl, so that their owner would be able to marry them and have children.

In popular culture

Japanese popular culture contains a large number of two-tailed cat characters based on the nekomata. Some of these include:

  • In the series InuYasha, Kirara (the demon companion of Sango), is a type of nekomata that can transform from a cute two-tailed cat like creature into a large demon surrounded in flame and capable of flight.
  • In the anime series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales and Mononoke
  • In the manga Shaman King, Hao Asakura's spirit ally from 1,000 years ago is a nekomata named Matamune.
  • In the manga/anime series Hyper Police the character Natsuki Sasahara is half-human/half-nekomata.
  • In the anime Inukami!, the character Tomekichi is a benevolent nekomata who honors an obligation to a deceased priest who once took care of him.
  • In the Pokémon game series, the psychic pokemon Espeon is a lavender cat-like creature with a forked tail.
  • In the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne Beast Nekomata appear as recruitable allies in Ginza and Ikebukuro.
  • In the video game Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Nekomata is one of the main Protagonist's summonable Personas.
  • The character Yurine in the animation Karas appears as both a human and a white cat with a forked-tail.
  • In the series Claymore, Luciela, the abyssal one of the South, has an awakened form resembling a two-tailed cat demon.
  • In the video games Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, the player has the ability to create nekomata characters.
  • The Bakeneko was featured in episode 10, 11, and 12 of the series Mononoke.
  • Chen, from Touhou Project, is a nekomata shikigami.
  • Rin, also from Touhou Project, is a nekomata, but she is also a kasha.
  • In the manga/anime series Naruto, Kakuzu and Hidan find the two-tailed bijuu which has the appearance of a giant nekomata when fully materialized.
  • An artist by the name Nekomata Master is present in multiple Konami related video games, especially in the BEMANI series.
  • In the Digimon Series there is a Digimon named Persiamon who takes the form of a two tailed cat woman.
  • In the anime series Xam'd: Lost Memories, there is a small, green and white, rabbit-like creature called a nekomata adopted by two children who name it Roppa.

References

  • Casal, U. A. (1959). "The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan". Folklore Studies 18: pp. 1–93. Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan University. doi:10.2307/1177429.
  • Mizuki, Shigeru (2003). Mujara 3: Kinki-hen. Japan: Soft Garage, p. 108. ISBN 4861330068.
  • Mizuki, Shigeru (2003). Mujara 2: Chūbu-hen. Japan: Soft Garage, p. 88, 117. ISBN 486133005X.


  • Addis, Stephen, ed. Japanese Ghosts and Demons: Art of the Supernatural. George Braziller, 2001.
  • Kiej'e, Nikolas. Japanese Grotesqueries. C. E. Tuttle Co., 1973.
  • Kaii-Yōkai Denshō Database (KYDD). Online bibliographical database of supernatural folklore published by the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.
  • Casal, U. A. (1959). "The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan". Folklore Studies 18: pp. 1–93. Asian Folklore Studies, Nanzan University. doi:10.2307/1177429.
  • Morgan S.H. (2000). “Bake-neko”

External links