Japanese cats (日本猫)

Japanese cats (nihon neko) are cats native to Japan which have long enjoyed the companionship with the Japanese.


The face has a straight nose and the fur of the ears is short. The fur of the whole body is not so long. Some tails are slender and others extremely short, but there are also some slender but curved only at the tip. In many cases a short-tailed cat has a complicatedly-curved tailbone, but as it is covered with fur it looks like a mere stump on the face of it. A short-tailed cat is relatively rare in the world, which forms one of the characteristics of the Japanese cats. One theory says that the tail is likely to become longer and narrower as going farther toward east, short in Kansai (regions including Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe) and curved in western regions. According to another theory, long-tailed cats are said to have diminished because birth of a fork-tailed specter Nekomata (a mythical two-tailed monster cat) was shunned and short-tailed cats were preferred.

They have a reputation for their beautiful coats of fur and their classification by color is also regarded as novelty by foreigners. A single color of either white or black, a belt-shaped pattern of stripes with light and shade, black patches or brown patches on a white coat, and three colors of white, brown and black, called Mike (Calico) Cat, are examples classified by color. A cat with a pattern of stripes is referred to as Tabby Cat, and sometimes called specifically in different terms; one with brown stripes is Red Tabby or Orange Tabby, one with dark brown stripes is Brown Tabby, and one with grey stripes is Grey Tabby.

The color of the coat is considered to be brought by genetic factors and some influence in the mother's body but sometimes atavism and so on may occur, which do not always bring the same color as the parents. In relation to sex-linked inheritance, many of the cats with larger area of a white coat are females and those with colors other than white are males. Besides, almost all Mike Cats are females.


In Japan which was an island separated from the continent since about ten thousand years ago, cats (domestic cats) originally did not exist. There is a legend that the beginning of Japanese cats was the ones imported around the Nara period from Chinese history as beneficial cats to protect important documents including sutras from rats, but there is a possibility that they had existed since before the birth of Christ partially because there is a specimen discovered from the Karakami remains of the Yayoi period (250 B.C.– 250 A.D.). In the Heian period they appeared in various waka (Japanese poems) and narratives, which implies that they were good friends of people. As cats were brought into Japan on each occasion of trades with China, there seemed to be some changes, but judging from the fact that there were also some trades with Southeast Asia including Siam (Kingdom of Thailand) during the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) (Japan), it is considered to have another relation with the cats of these areas. The present shape of the Japanese cats is one established in the Edo period. A wooden prayer board of 'Sleeping Cat' (attributed: carved by Jingoro HIDARI) of Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine is a good example to show what Japanese cats were like.

Since they were imported to Japan they were used as beneficial animals rather than pets, so they more often spent outside than were kept inside houses. Therefore, they had never selective breeding artificially. As they get rid of rats, they spread as alley cats throughout the country without being hated by citizens.


White cat

Pure white

Blue eyes and Kinme Ginme (literally, a golden eye and a silver eye) (odd-eyed [cat]) in which the color of the right eye and the left eye is different are sometimes seen.

Black cat

All black

A completely all black cat is especially called Karasu Neko (Crow Cat).

Tortoiseshell cat

Brown and black (tortoiseshell)

Tabby Cat

Red Tabby or Orange Tabby (yellow and brown) (Red Mackerel Tabby)

Brown Tabby (brown and black) (Brown Mackerel Tabby)

Gray Tabby (gray and black) (Silver Mackerel Tabby)

Patched Tabby

Black patches on a white coat

Brown patches on a white coat

Stripes of a pheasant or a mackerel on a white coat

According to the ratio of a white coat and a pattern, a cat is sometimes referred to as Bi-color Cat.

Mi-Ke Cat

Mi-Ke Cat (white, brown and black)

Striped Mi-Ke Cat (white and brown and stripes of a pheasant or a mackerel)

Present situation

After the Meiji period Western breeds that came with civilization and enlightenment became popular, and combined with peculiarity of cats that were kept outside and naturally crossbred as well as development of mating between these cats and Japanese cats caused hybrids to increase. It was after the Pacific War that this trend occurred most eminently, when ordinary citizens were allowed to keep (buy) pets easily and many exotic breeds came to be kept in Japan. Cats which were allowed to walk around outside according to their habits mated with alley cats and hybrids were born. Since Japanese cats had close contact with the Japanese as alley cats, it is considered as a background that they were difficult to be recognized as "a breed". Besides, exotic breeds also turned to alley cats and further hybridity progressed. Therefore, the original figure of the Japanese cats since the Edo period has been disappearing for certain.

Present alley cats, under above-mentioned circumstances, in urban areas and residential neighborhood, have mostly become hybrids. Original Japanese cats have survived as alley cats which live in countryside less influenced by exotic breeds, or as pets kept by some cat lovers.

And in America and Europe, a breed of the Japanese bob-tailed cat which was improved and established in America as a pure strain from the bob-tailed Japanese cat is gaining quiet popularity among cat lovers.

On the contrary, an example of Japanese cats being brought out includes that, when people moved from the main land to Okinawa or Amami-oshima island where cats had not existed, they took cats with them, and as a result, some of them became alley cats there and spoilt rare native wildlife including Okinawa rails by eating them, which has been at issue.

[Original Japanese]