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The Japanese bobtail has championship status in all cat associations.

CFA 1997 registrations
Shorthair - 228
Longhair - 54
Total - 282

Change from 1996

Popularity for 1997
23rd out of 36 breeds



Japanese Bobtails
Bring Good Luck and Elegance With Fantastic Poms

On February 22, 1987, more than 400 cat lovers gathered in a Tokyo auditorium to celebrate Japan's first Cat Day. They offered prayers for their cats' longevity and paid respect to the tenacity of a cat that had journeyed 222 miles to return to its owner from whom it had become separated during a trip to the country.

Image by Quarto

"Cats are more than just pets," said Naoki Yanase, a professor of English literature at Seijo University. "They radiate serenity and are essential for the well-being of humans."

Cat Day officials, after surveying almost 9,000 cat lovers, chose February 22 as Cat Day because the month and the day, 2/22, matched the number of miles the lost cat had traveled in search of its family. What's more, the pronunciation of 2/22 in Japanese, ni-ni-ni, resembles the sound of a cat meowing. Such linguistic and numerological convergence is not to be taken lightly.

Sunshine and Shadows

The Japanese love for companion animals is prodigious. Japan's population, 126 million, ranks ninth among the nations of the world. Japan is fourth, however, in cat population, with 8 million feline residents. The only country that outspends Japan on drugs and food additives for animals is the United States, and judging by the extent to which the Japanese are willing to pamper their pets, Japan stands second to none in its regard for cats and dogs. Many Japanese pets have their own water beds and gold jewelry; a number of resorts offer special menus and sleeping facilities for dogs and cats; and five years ago a record company in Japan hired composer Hiro Sakamuchi to write music designed for cats' and dogs' listening enjoyment while their owners were off at work. The compact disc of Sakamuchi's compositions sold out within days.

Despite these outward trappings of indulgence, "it's difficult to view the conditions for dogs and cats in Japan as ideal," wrote Japan Times Weekly in its February 1998 international edition. "While people spend a fortune on pedigree pets and many shed a tear over the tale of a loyal dog, a large number of dogs and cats are abandoned annually. At least 414,506 dogs and 307,626 cats were put down by local municipalities throughout Japan" in 1995, accounting for 88 percent of dogs and 98 percent of cats gathered at pounds. A 1996 survey conducted by the Japanese Antivivisection Association revealed that 313,812 cats (4 percent of the cat population) had been surrendered by their owners that year.

"Cats in Japan run away from people," wrote Elizabeth Kiritani in The Daily Yomiuri for August 30, 1997. "Street cats slink about, never too far from a parked car or tall fence to escape under or over. Starving cats furtively paw garbage bags and run lickety-split when I approach. In the United States hungry cats approach me, begging for food... The shy types sit hunched a short distance away and wait for me to approach them... whereas the Tokyo Tom makes it a point to steer clear."

Artful Interpretations

The history of the Japanese bobtail has been marked by similar reversals of fortune to those that have visited all cats in Japan. "The Japanese emperor Ichijo (986-1011) is credited with introducing the cat into his country," wrote zoologist Claire Necker, who counted a Japanese cat lover and author named Mr. Kimura among her correspondents. After Kimura had sent Necker a print of a piebald, short-tailed feline, she inquired after the history of this kind of cat, which has long been featured in Japanese sculpture, woodblock prints and silkscreens as well as paintings. The walls of Tokyo's Gotokuji Temple, constructed in 1697, are adorned with paintings of bobtail cats, and two longhair bobtails are featured in a 15th-century painting that hangs in the Freer Gallery of Art in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.

"Such Japanese domestic cat as you have mentioned is not so specific species," wrote Kimura, "but is very popular in Japan. According to the Japanese classical literature such domestic cat was introduced into ancient Japan from ancient China."

Necker observed that "kinky-tailed cats are exclusively Eastern." According to one study she cited, "Hong Kong had the smallest number of kinky tails found in East and Southeast Asia -- about one-third of the cat population," while Singapore, with 69 percent, had the highest percentage. "Such a preponderance of distorted tails points to their superiority over straight tails for a tropical climate," Necker concluded, "but what they can offer a cat in a hot climate that straight tails can't is anyone's guess."

Although kinked tails are commonplace in the East, Kimura also noted that tail length in free-roaming Japanese cats "varies very much" and, interestingly enough, "most Japanese cat fanciers pay very little attention to the ordinary Japanese cat."

Pom-Poms Without Honor

Like many another pet in other lands, the Japanese bobtail was once a favorite among the ruling class in Japan. Nevertheless in 1602, Japanese authorities decreed that all cats should be conscripted into service in the pursuit of vermin that were threatening the nation's silkworms and its spin-off industries. This decree meant that cats had to be set free and, furthermore, that buying or selling cats was forbidden. From that time forward bobtailed cats and their normal-tailed compatriots lived on the streets and farms of Japan, making their way in a world from which many of them had previously been sheltered.

Their reduced social status notwithstanding, Japanese bobtails continued to be considered symbols of good fortune in Japan; and the best fortune was associated with the mee-kay or three-fur pattern -- an essentially white cat with a few scattered accent patches of black and red tastefully deployed on its glistening coat. A particularly fetching good-luck charm is the maneki-neko or "beckoning cat," a Japanese bobtail seated with one paw raised. A maneki-neko statue is often found in storefronts and restaurants.

However much the Japanese bobtail was thought to assure good fortune, the Japanese people did not believe bobtails would bring much glory in the show ring when the cat fancy began to blossom in Japan. "Ego, social structure, and pride of ownership among the Japanese dictated that foreign cats (as they generally are, no matter what the country) were the most prized," wrote international cat judge Richard H. Gebhardt. As a consequence, "Japanese brokers had a field day buying cats in the United States for resale at inflated prices back home."

Americans, for their part, discovered the Japanese bobtail when cat show judges from the United States began officiating on occasion as guest judges at shows in Japan in the 1960s. The first recorded importation of Japanese bobtails to the United States occurred in August 1968. The following year the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) granted registration status to the breed. In 1971 bobtails were advanced to provisional status in CFA, and as of May 1, 1976, they were eligible to compete in championship classes. These days the bobtail -- in both short and longhair varieties -- enjoys championship status in virtually every cat-registering body in North America.

The Building Code

While its tail is its calling card, the Japanese bobtail is not a breed wherein the caudal appendage wags the cat. Indeed, when cat registries in their infinite wisdom assign point values to the various parts of the bobtail's anatomy, color weighs as heavily as tail does (generally 20 points). Head, too, is allotted 20 points, while overall body conformation is worth even more.

A medium-size cat with clean lines, the Japanese bobtail is well muscled, but nonetheless straight and slender rather than massively built. Its body -- long, lean and elegant without being tubular -- is supported by slender, graceful legs. The hind legs, though considerably longer than the front, should be so deeply angled that the bobtail does not appear to rise from front to back when standing still.

The Japanese bobtail's head should approximate an equilateral triangle. Its cheekbones should be high; its eyes -- large and oval, not round -- should exhibit a gentle curve that precludes their exceeding the planes of the cheekbones or forehead. The eyes should be set into the skull at a pronounced slant, which ought to be especially noticeable when the cat is viewed in profile. The ears are large, upright, set wide apart and tilted in repose.

The tail, a cross between a question mark and an exclamation point, displays itself in "a million different configurations" says one bobtail breeder. Although tail designs can be grouped into five or six basic categories -- pompon, corkscrew, teacup handle and so on -- each tail is unique, like each snowflake or fingerprint.

While the bobtail's tail might measure four or five inches if it were stretched to its full length (which is not a good idea to try), most standards suggest that the tail should extend no more than two or three inches from the body; and it is no small wonder that anything so concise can be so various, especially when its vertebrae are fused.

The gene responsible for this curlicue treasure is a recessive one, therefore, the only way to produce bobtail kittens is to breed one bobtail to another.

Personality Profile

The Japanese bobtail is a charming personality, the kind of "loyal and comforting friend," says one bobtail owner, "that comes running to the door whenever its people return home, no matter how long they've been away. While some may wonder if bobtails might be uncoordinated because they lack a tail, this isn't so. They're athletic cats, excellent jumpers that are both agile and powerful, especially in the rear legs."

The Japanese bobtail has also been described as "fearless, bright, and inquisitive." If you get one, say most owners, you will shortly want another, perhaps more, "for the Japanese bobtail is an elegant and beautiful cat that will win your heart -- over and over again."


Cat owners who want to share every Kodak moment and then some with their cats can purchase a unique toilet system built for two. The Toto Company, one of Japan's premier toilet makers, designed a john-john that has two seats (the smaller one, presumably, is for the cat) on top of a shared drain. A fish-shaped ring enables cats to flush this unholy contrivance by themselves. Unfortunately that report we saw did not mention anti-theft devices on the toilet paper rolls.


Copyright 2000 Pet Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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