Neko No Kai – The Cat Mystery

Neko_no_Kai_-_The_Cat_Mystery

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

March 17th: A black-spotted, two-tailed cat appeared suddenly, slinking around the Motoyoshi family farmhouse. The son of the family, Genjiro, was fond of cats and decided to take the cat in and care for it. Genjiro was a healthy boy, but since taking care of the cat he started looking haggard, getting emaciated and weak. He didn’t have any particular illness, and no one could explain the decline in his health.

Genjiro’s parents blamed his condition on the cat. They noticed that the cat curled up in Genjiro’s bedclothes every day, the same clothes that Genjiro slept in. Without a doubt, he was catching some sort of infection or allergy from the cat. Genjiro’s parents tried many times to get rid of the cat—throwing it out the door, even carrying it to different towns to abandon it—but the cat always managed to find its way back. Eventually, the cat stayed away from everyone but Genjiro. The parents could no longer get close to it.

But Genjiro’s condition worsened, and his parents insisted that he get rid of the cat. His mother had Genjiro take up the cat, and she followed them as they walked to a distant town, going so far that the cat could never find its way back.

They made it as far as Koshinzuka, when Genjiro’s mother suddenly lost sight of him. She looked around, but couldn’t find Genjiro anywhere. She recruited some local children to help in the search, but it was fruitless. No sign of Genjiro was found, and his mother was forced to return alone.

April 9th: In the vicinity of Saidaiji temple, a dog was seen carrying a human arm in its mouth. The arm had scraps of a torn kimono hanging off of it, and these kimono scraps were taken to Genjiro’s mother for her to see. She confirmed that they were Genjiro’s, the same kimono he was wearing the day of his disappearance.

The official finding was that the cat must have attacked and killed Genjiro, and devoured most of his body. Given the strange nature of the cat, no one was really surprised.

Translator’s Note:

I haven’t done a magical cat story for awhile. And it’s been even longer since I translated a story from this book! I’ll probably do more of this style while working on the final edits for my book, Yurei: The Japanese Ghost. The full “yokai encyclopedia” style entries take a LOT more work and research than translating stories.

This was an actual newspaper report about a disappearance and death, printed in one of Japan’s kawaraban clay block printed newspapers, probably from around the 17th century. It comes from the Natural History collection of Waseda University.

It’s a strange story in that the cat was identified as a nekomata right at the beginning. You would think that if a two-tailed cat suddenly showed up on your doorstep, you would know better than to take it in and try and make it into a

Further Reading:

For more magical cat stories, check out:

Nekomata – The Split-Tailed Cat

Bakeneko Yujo – The Bakeneko Prostitutes of Edo

Bakeneko – The Changing Cat

Kasha-The Corpse-Eating Cat Demon

Gotokoneko – The Trivet Cat

The Cat’s Grave

Iriomote Oyamaneko – The Iriomote Great Mountain Cat

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. seikaiha
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 22:48:22

    Reblogged this on seikaiha’s blah-blah-blah and commented:
    His translation is great, so I think you will enjoy his other posts too if you like reading Japanese ghost stories. But, beware! They may be really scary.

    Reply

  2. Zack Davisson
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 23:05:02

    Thanks! This one was a little scarier than others. The ending took me by surprise when I was reading it!

    Reply

  3. Mark Schumacher
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 01:54:48

    You are a gifted translator and teller of tales. I enjoy your site immensely. As for your Nekomata (split-tailed cat), I would like to mention two “probably” related items that you might include on you main Nekomata page at http://hyakumonogatari.com/2012/04/21/nekomata-the-split-tailed-cat/

    1. Cats and Shamisen. In your story, you mention the famous nekomata picture from the Edo-era book Hyakki Zukan (百怪図巻, An Illustrated Manual of One Hundred Weird Tales) by Sawagi Sushi. This picture portrays a woman-like cat playing the shamisen. There is an old Japanese proverb that goes 風が吹けば桶屋が儲かる (Kaze ga fukeba, okeya ga mō karu), which literally means “When the wind blows, the barrel maker makes money.” The proverb signifies the “interconnectedness of all things” (i.e., the domino effect). The story behind the proverb employs cats and shamisen. To wit: “When the wind blows, it kicks up dust. Dust gets into people’s eyes and causes some people to go blind. Blind people in old Japan turned to music to make a living, commonly becoming shamisen-playing storytellers. The shamisen is made from cat skin. An increase in the population of blind people equates to a decline in the cat population. Fewer cats equate to more rats. More rats equate to more scavenging of rice supplies. More rat scavenging forces people to order more barrels to protect their rice. Hence, when the winds blows, barrel makers get rich.

    2. Split Tail of Cat “Probably” Linked to Ancient Fox Lore. In your story, you say that when a cat reaches a certain age, its tail will split into two and it will begin to walk on its hind legs and become powerful. This is strikingly similar to Chinese/Japanese fox lore. Foxes grow in power as they age. They grow a tail for each century of life. When they reach 900 years of age, a nine-tailed fox 九尾狐 gains the power of infinite vision (in some texts, the creature is a good omen, in others a bad omen). For many more details, see http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tanuki.shtml#origins

    Finally, the picture you present of a dancing white cat dressed in a red robe comes from Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889), a spoof of a 12th-century hand scroll known as Frolicking Animals & Humans (Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画). The latter work is a national treasure at Kōzan-ji Temple 高山寺 (Kyoto). In any case, if you look at the entire painting, you could also “justifiable” call the creature a white fox (not a white cat), for beside it is a tanuki — and the tanuki is very closely related to the fox. The color white is also important, for white foxes are considered especially powerful and serve as the mount or animal companion of Inari (kami of rice) as well as the mount of Dakiniten and various Tengu. At the end of the day, however, we can only speculate, for Cat/Fox/Tanuki lore is a very complex topic.

    Reply

  4. seikaiha
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 05:43:53

    Hi. Actually, my graduation thesis at college was on Bakin Takizawa’s Hakkenden, and my professor liked to assigned us to read old printed texts of horror stories translated from 聊斎志異, Liaozhai Zhiyi. So really scary stories are okay to me. :) Hope to learn something from your posts to explain Japanese things

    Reply

  5. 83n831
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 11:10:30

    I shared this on a Facebook page devoted to international legend research and in short order learned that two-tailed cats are common images used by medieval Irish stone carvers, and their significance has been a topic of scholarly puzzlement. One interpretation is that it is a beast from “an ancient Celtic tradition”; another is that it reflects the use of a lion’s tail in illuminated manuscripts to make a complex Celtic knot of the sort that Irish scriveners loved to make. The first sounded to me like the standard response to any puzzling image or custom, but now I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a deep cultural link that ties these two traditions together.

    More info: http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/monuments%20%28misc%29%2004.pdf

    Reply

  6. seikaiha
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 17:24:11

    You guys are making me ashamed of my ignorance even if I’m Japanese. :)

    First, it reminded me of the stories like a man weakens after he has taken a mysterious beautiful wife, actually a yu-rei or yokai of some sort. Like in a piece in Ueda Akinari’s “Ugetsu Monogatari”. The kawaraban print might imply those stories.

    In Hakkenden, by Takizawa Bakin, an long-lived fox becomes a dragon and ascends to heaven. I vaguely remember the author mentioned a similar Chinese legend.

    I heard of a local cat folk-tale in which cats of a certain age go to a school for cats and come back home with some kind of power.

    As for cat and rat battles, Oidashi-neko story might be interesting to you.

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%BF%BD%E3%81%84%E5%87%BA%E3%81%97%E7%8C%AB

    (in Japanese)

    Reply

  7. lady39jane
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 19:27:24

    I’m disappointed…. the cat always gets blamed. If it were a Good story, the cat would be sent away, but the son would get worse…, until the cat reappears, and the villain turns out to be…. well something else. The kid was probably killed by a sex maniac, or someone. Just goes to show the ugliness of humans, to blame animals for their own evil.

    Reply

    • seikaiha
      Feb 18, 2014 @ 05:26:58

      Well, I think those Bake-neko storeis also reflect people’s feeling of awe to the nature and supernatural creatures in the old days. In many stories, a Bake-neko cat avenges his dead master. In the Oidashi-Neko legend, a Buddhist priest’s cat and other cats in the neighborhood gets rid of a big monster rat from the temple. And maybe some scary cat stories taught kids to treat cats better.

      Reply

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