Neko Musume – Cat Daughter

Neko_Musume_Old_and_New

Translated and Sourced From Ansei Zakki, Gegege no Kitaro DVD Magazine, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

Part Cat / Part Human, the Neko Musume are interesting and unique creatures in Japan’s pantheon. A different animal altogether from the shape-changing bakeneko, Neko Musume are mixed-race children that show both traits of their parentage.

What Does Neko Musume Mean?

The kanji for Neko Musume is (almost) completely straight forward. 猫 (neko; cat) + 娘 (musume; daughter). Right there in the name you can see that Neko Musume are the daughters of cats.

The only twist is that the term “musume” can just as easily refer to young girls as daughters. Like many familiar titles in Japanese, they distinguish both age and blood ties. This usage is not as common in modern Japanese, but was much more common during the Edo period from whence the Neko Musume sprang.

Misemono Neko Musume

Misemono Bear Daughter

No photos exist of the original Neko Musume, but this is a similarly exhibited girl known as the Bear Daughter, from this site

Of all of Japan’s yokai, the Neko Musume might have the oddest beginning. The term can be traced back to a particular exhibit at a particular Misemono Show in Asakusa during the 1700s.

Misemono Shows (Seeing Things) were popular from the Horyoku to the Meiwa era (1751-1771). Simply put, they were a combination of American freak shows and “Believe it or Not” exhibitions. Skilled crafters presented yokai artifacts like kappa mummies and oni skulls, along with historical relics and strange artifacts. The original “Fiji Mermaid” exhibited by P.T. Barnum was a product of these shows. There were also sideshow performers like jugglers, acrobats, and fire eaters. And then there were the human “misemono,” often people born with birth defects who were exhibited under outrageous names and with fictional backstories.

One of these was the Neko Musume, exhibited in Asakusa during this time. Reaching a height of popularity around 1769, nothing is known about the true identity of this original Neko Musume. There are no known pictures. Accounts state that her appearance was remarkable—she looked exactly like the human/cat hybrid she claimed to be. Whether this was simply an uncanny appearance, the result of birth defects, clever prosthetics and make-up, or some combination of them all is not known. But the Neko Musume was a popular and startling attraction at her booth in Asakusa.

Misemono Bear Daughter Front

Another photo of the Bear Daughter from this site

With the fading of the Misemono Shows in the 1780s, the Neko Musume disappeared from history—at least for a while.

Edo Period Neko Musume

Shungyosai_Name-onna_Neko Musume

Neko Musume appeared a few short decades later, in 1800 when the kaidan collection Ehon Sayoshigure (絵本小夜時雨; Picture Book of a Gentle Rain on a Late Autumn Evening) was published. One of the stories in the collection was called Ashu no Kijo (阿州の奇女; The Strange Woman of Ashu). It told the tale of the household of a rich merchant, who had a daughter with a strange habit of licking things. Her tongue was rough like a cats. Rumors arose as to the nature of her parentage, and she was given the nickname of Neko Musume. The same story was told later in 1830 in the satirical Kyoka Hyakki Yakyo (狂歌百鬼夜興; Poems of the Night Parade of 100 Demons) but instead of Neko Musume the girl with the strange habit was called Name Onna (舐め女; Licking Girl).

Another Edo period publication called Ansei Zakki (安政雑記; Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei) has a story of a Neko Musume. This one is particularly noteworthy, as the Ansei Zakki was not a kaidan collection but a diary collecting interesting political and historical facts of the time. The following is presented as a true story.

The Story of the Cat Daughter (From Miscellaneous Notes on Ansei)

In the 3rd year of Kae (1850) in the Ushigome district of Yokotera machi (modern day Shinjuku, Tokyo) there lived a mentally disabled girl named Matsu. Ever since she was a child, she had the strange habit of dragging the discarded heads and guts of fish from the garbage and eating them. She was exceedingly nimble, and would scurry along the hedges and walkways like a cat, trapping mice and eating them.

Because of her cat-like nature, she gathered nicknames like Neko Kozo (猫小僧; Cat Kid) and Neko Bozu (猫坊主; Cat Priest). Many speculated on her nature, wondering if she was suffering for some deeds in her past life, or if the essence of a cat had mingled with her own life essence as a baby resulting in this remarkable girl.

Her mother worried about her eccentric behavior and summoned doctors and prayed to gods to help her daughter. None could find the cause or cure. At her wits end, she tried to beat the cat out of her daughter, but to no avail. All hope lost, her mother shaved her daughters head and sent her to be a nun, hoping to expunge whatever past sin had made her a monster. But this didn’t help a bit. The cat daughter still sucked the organs of fish and continued her eccentric behavior. She was expelled from the nunnery and sent back home.

Matsu was relentlessly bullied by the other children in her neighborhood. The children chased after her, but because she was nimble as a cat she would escape by flying over the rooftops. No one could touch her. And she was popular amongst the adults for clearing out any rat infestations and keeping the neighborhood clean. Eventually, her mother saw the value in her strange daughter and started renting her out as a rat catcher to her neighbors. For a sen, the cat daughter would crawl under their houses or into their garbage piles and feast on all of the rats.

Showa Period Neko Musume

Kamishibai Neko Musume

In 1936, Neko Musume was revived by Shigeo Urata, one of the pioneers of kamishibai (paper theater) storytelling. Kamishibai was a popular pre-war entertainment, where itinerant storytellers wandered from town to town delivering chapters of the latest adventures of popular characters. Urata’s version of the Neko Musume took the form of a Buddhist morality story—a tale of karmic cause-and-effect. In his story, there is a father whose occupation is making cat-skin shamisen. His soul bears the weight of all the cats that he has killed, and his daughter is born as a strange cat/human hybrid. Her eyes are bright and sharp and her ears are pointed and stand up on her head. Like the other Neko Musume, she chases and eats mice, scampers across the roof like a cat, and even speaks in a cat’s voice.

The Neko Musume story was popular enough to spawn imitators like the Tokage Musume (トカゲ娘; Lizard Daughter) and the Hebi Musume (蛇娘; Snake Daughter). With these later characters the Buddhist moral lesson was lost, and they became just cheap entertainment. In 1937, the police began to censor kamishibai performers under the Public Morals law. The popular Neko Musume character was targeted as the origin of these girl/animal hybrid stories.

Manga Neko Musume

Neko_Musume_Suhiji_Koku

Shigeru Mizuki started his career working as an illustrator and writer for kamishibai, and worked on several of these original series including Neko Musume and the early incarnation of Hakaba Kitaro. In the post-war period, kamishibai struggled to survive as an art form and eventually gave way to mass-market printing and the emerging manga industry. When Mizuki moved from kamishibai to creating his own series for the fledgling kashihon (rental manga) market, he brought several characters with him.

His 1958 kashihon version of Neko Musume followed the kamishibai tales, portraying Neko Musume as a horror character in the series Kaiki Neko Musume (怪奇猫娘; Bizarre Tales of the Cat Daughter). The half human / half cat girl named Midori was cursed. Her father had killed a giant black cat, and the cat’s curse fell upon the man’s daughter causing her to be born as a monster. Like Kitaro himself, this version of Neko Musume crawled out of her mother’s tomb, as her mother had died while pregnant.

Kaiki Neko Musume Shigeru Mizuki

In the early 1960s Mizuki started to have some success with his version of Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro). He introduced a prototype of Neko Musume—a cute girl named Neko (寝子; Sleeping Child) that Kitaro met at a singing completion. Her cat-like, half-yokai nature is revealed later. This was her only appearance in that series.

In the mid-1960s, Mizuki was hired by Shonen Magazine to produce a more child-friendly version of his horror comic Hakaba Kitaro. In the first series of his re-branded Gegege no Kitaro, Mizuki introduced Neko Musume into the series. She was not a main character from the start; she first appeared in a story called Nezumi Otoko vs. Neko Musume (猫娘とねずみ男). Kitaro brings her in for the sole reason of antagonizing the rat-like Nezumi Otoko and revealing his schemes.

Nezumi_Otoko_Neko_Musume_Attack

When Gegege no Kitaro moved to Weekly Shonen Sunday in the 1970s, Neko Musume joined the regular cast in the role of Kitaro’s girlfriend. He name was changed again, this time to Nekoko (猫子; Cat Girl) and she was given a more yokai-like appearance than her previous incarnations. As an interesting contrast, this version wasf not a yokai, but a human with a strange disease that transformed her into a cat whenever she saw fish or mice.

Anime Neko Musume

Neko Musume History Gegege no Kitaro

Image from this site

Neko Musume appeared sporadically in the original Kitaro animated series, and didn’t become a regular character until the second series. She was called Neko Musume, instead of the Nekoko of the comics. Her personality was quite different, however. She even joined Nezumi Otoko on his money-making schemes.

It wasn’t until the 1980s Gegege no Kitaro anime that the modern version of Neko Musume was born. This animation took all the different versions of Neko Musume and made her into a single character, the half-yokai / half- human cat girl. Again was in the role as Kitaro’s sometimes girlfriend, her appearance was also mostly fixed at this time. She appeared in the familiar white blouse, red dress, and red hair ribbon. That is the Neko Musume that most of the world knows today.

Neko Musume Mizuki Shigeru RoadNeko Musume character from Mizuki Shigeru Road

Translator’s Note:

This was a fun journey, because everyone loves Neko Musume even if they don’t know much about her. Few people realize that she has roots beyond Mizuki Shigeru and his beloved comic Gegege no Kitaro, and that the Neko Musume is a legitimate yokai in her own right and not some version of the bakeneko.

I have often been asked why the Kitaro comics translated into English don’t have Neko Musume, and the truth is that she just doesn’t appear in the comics all that often. It often works that animation has different needs from comics, and just as Bluto is only a minor character in the original Popeye comics, Neko Musume is a minor character in Gegege no Kitaro. Her popularity in the cartoon eventually broadened her role in the comic, but she was never a main character like Nezumi Otoko or Medama Oyaji.

And of course, Jim Zub and Steve Cummings created their own modern, updated version of the Neko Musume in the yokai comic Wayward Volume 1: String Theory, that I write the back-up essays and Yokai Files for.

I’ve been waiting for Ayane’s true nature to be revealed in issue #8 before posting this history of the Neko Musume. Personally, I think the girl from Ansei Zakk and Ayane would have gotten along just fine.

Neko Musume Ayane Wayward

On Cutting a Spider’s Leg During a Game of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

Tonoigusa_Hyakumonogatari_Spider

Translated from Tonoigusa

The brave young men had gathered together for a single purpose. “Tonight, we will exchange 100 stories and see if the legends are true; see if something terrifying awaits us at the end.”

They were ardent tellers of tales. As the night passed, they soon arrived at the closing of the ninety-ninth weird story. The room was thick with anticipation.

“Let us not be impatient.” said one of the men. “A drink and some food together before the final tale is told.” All in agreement, they produced lacquered boxes packed tight with delicacies. These were shared between the intimate gathering. They sat in a circle, enjoying the brief respite.

Without warning, a great hand appeared on the ceiling. It appeared to stretch wide, reaching its fingers out in a colossal grasp.

The frightened men were bowled over at the sight, except for a single stalwart who sprang to action. With a flick of his wrist, his sword flew from its sheath and struck at the hand. However, much to everyone’s surprise instead of a giant finger the sword sliced off a spider’s leg, about three inches in length. One of the men chuckled, “I guess this was a true Test of Courage after all.”

As to the spider, it appeared to be of the variety known as the orb-spinning spider. It would flatter it too much to call it a Joro spider (joroguma). Its color was not right to call it an earth spider (tsuchigumo). But it was no common pit spider either (anagumo). After all, in its web it had killed a giant weevil, so it must have a dreadful poison.

But its color was blue/green, like the kind of insect that could disappear between blades of grass. Perhaps it was a sea spider, blown here by an ocean breeze that carried it far from its home, floating in the air as if on the waves. It is pitiable; this spider carried so far from its home, trying to make do in its new environment, spinning a web on unknown surfaces. We should admire its perseverance. It was only sitting there, sleeping in the summer heat, never asking for the intrusion of these storytellers. And here was its fine works undone.

Our own fine works are made of individual threads that can be pulled apart. We can be killed on the street walking home, joining Yorimitsu in the spirit realms. Or maybe tomorrow will come. It is not for us to decide.

Tonoigusa Hyakumonogatari Spider

Translator’s Note:

This story comes from the 1660 kaidan-shu Tonoigusa by Ogita Ansei. It is one of the earliest known accounts of the game Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

I’ve read numerous accounts of this story, but had never read it myself until recently. I was surprised to find the epilog about the spider, as it is not included in most translations.

Further Reading:

For more spider tales and tales of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, check out:

The Web of the Water Spider

Aoandon – The Blue Lantern Ghost

What is Hyakumonogatari?

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

Suppon on Onryo – The Vengeful Ghosts of the Turtles

Mizuki_Shigeru_Suppon_no_Onryo

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

You can still see turtle restaurants in Japan today offering a full-course suppon meal, including a glass of blood served with sake. But they are much rarer today than they were during the Edo period. A few strange stories come down to us from those times about ghostly goings-on in the turtle shops. This is one of them.

A man named Kiroku had a successful suppon shop in Nigata city. Every day he butchered and served up hundreds of turtles. One day at work, his body suddenly felt heavy. At the same time, everything became cold and dark, and it felt like he was being submerged under water. He tried to shout, but no voice came out. He felt around with his hands, and felt something even colder. It was a turtle shell. All around him were hundreds of turtles, crawling over his body and dragging him down.

Finally, Kiroku managed to let out a cry of horror, which brought his wife running into the room. When she opened the door, all of the turtles vanished.

This happened night after night, until finally Kiroku had enough. He had learned his lesson, and swore an oath against the taking of life. The wrathful turtle ghosts never came again.

Translator’s Note:

The second story of the dangers of overindulgence of suppon and ghostly revenge for Thanksgiving. This tale comes from the Edo period kaidan-shu Hokuetsu Kidan (北越奇談; Strange Stories from Hokuetsu), where it was illustrated by the famous artist Katsushika Hokusai.

Hokusai_Suppon_no_Kaii

The original story was called Suppon no Kaii, which used the term怪異 (Kaii; strangeness). Mizuki changed it to the term onryo (怨霊), which refers specifically to a grudge-bearing spirit. The word is used almost exclusively for the yurei of human beings, so it is a bit odd seeing it used in the context of these turtles who are angry at being eaten. But it just goes to show the flexibility of folklore.

Mizuki Shigeru adds a footnote to this story, saying that living things must consume other living things in order to stay alive—that is the very nature of life. Even the turtles in this story needed to kill in order to live, so logically they object to the gluttony of so many of them being eaten, not the very fact they were eaten at all. Go ahead and eat turtles, Mizuki says, just appreciate their sacrifice and don’t eat too many!

Further Reading:

For more tales of magical turtles and over-eating yokai, check out:

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

The Appearance of the Spirit Turtle

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

Suppon no Yurei – The Turtle Ghost

Mizuki_Shigeru_Suppon_no_Yurei

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara and Japanese Wikipedia

The big cities in the Edo period were full of shops that specialized in the soft shell turtle dishes called suppon. If the truth be told, this was because people at the time believed that suppon was an effective remedy for hemorrhoids. But this isn’t that kind of story.

There were three guys in Nagoya city who loved suppon. Every chance they got, they would go out drinking and wind up at a suppon restaurant. It wasn’t that they had hemorrhoids or anything—they just loved the taste— true gourmets for all things turtle. Or more than that. These guys just couldn’t get enough; they had a kind of suppon mania.

One day they decided to try a new suppon restaurant, but when they went in they felt like something was wrong. They couldn’t help but notice that the proprietor of the restaurant’s face looked very much like the turtles he was serving. The rest of his body had a greenish tint, and his flesh was scaly. But it wasn’t until he rose up on his impossibly long legs that they realized they were dealing with a suppon yurei, a turtle ghost.

The three men ran from the shop as fast as their legs could carry them. When they got back to their house, they hid under their blankets and shivered with fright for two, then three days until they were brave enough to show their faces to the world. None of the men ever ate suppon again.

Translator’ s Note:

Another yokai tale of overeating for Thanksgiving. The original to this story comes from the Edo period kaidan-shu Kaidan Tabi-no-Akebono (怪談旅之曙; Weird Tales of Voyages by Daybreak), where it was titled Suppon no Bakemono. Mizuki Shigeru changed the title to Suppon no Yurei, which is an interesting choice seeing as yurei is a word generally reserved for the spirits of humans. But it is not always so, as you can see.

Suppon_no_Bakemono

Suppon no Yurei s is one of the rare tales of yokai turtles. Turtles play an odd place in Japanese folklore. On the one hand they were treated as serene gods and spiritual animals, on the other hand they were considered quite capable of bloody revenge. Their ability to bite and hang on indefinitely gives them their reputation. Tales of yokai turtles always call out the turtle’s nature as ”shunenbukai” (執念深い) , meaning tenacious , spiteful, or vindictive.

The particular tale is considered to be a variation of Takenyudo (Tall Priest) legends. These legends are similar to the Nopperabo legends (see Shirime – Eyeball Butt) where an ordinary encounter suddenly turns extraordinary when someone you thought to be human exhibits supernatural characteristics. In the case of the Nopperabo, this is a lack of face. In the case of Takenyudo—and the Suppon no Yurei—it is suddenly stretching to an inhuman size.

Suppon no Yurei is ambiguous on how the turtles managed to manifest a semi-human appearance for their yokai. Are these the ghosts of the dead turtles? Or is this a classic henge shape-shifting turtle out to protect his brethren from winding up in the pot? No one really knows, and the guys in the story don’t stick around to find out. Mizuki tries to clear up this ambiguity by re-naming the story “Suppon no Yurei,” implying a spirit of a dead turtle. Based on my knowledge of Japanese folklore, I would vote for a long-lived turtle who transformed into a yokai and gained supernatural powers. But then, turtles are already long-lived so this one would have had to have been around for a long, long time.

Mizuki Shigeru does make a note that it is perfectly OK to enjoy a meal of suppon—he personally loves suppon—just don’t eat too much of it. Moderation is key if you want to enjoy your food without invoking the wrathful spirits of animals.

Further Reading:

For more Thanksgiving yokai of overeating and other turtle tales, check out:

Oseichu – The Mimicking Roundworm

The Sprit Turtle

Shio no Choji – Salty Choji

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