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The Unique Japanese Bobtail
The Japanese Bobtail is a breed of domestic cat with an unusual bobbed tail that more closely resembles the tail of a rabbit than that of a cat. The short tail is a body-type mutation caused by a recessive gene, thus it is not at all related to the popular Manx , whose shortened tail is caused by a dominant gene. The enchanting Japanese Bobtail breed is native to Japan and Southeast Asia, and is now found all throughout the world.
The Japanese Bobtail has been known in Japan for many centuries, appearing often in traditional folklore and art. The “maneki neko” ("beckoning cat" or "inviting cat"), an image of a Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, is considered a good-luck charm among Japanese around the world, who often keep a statue of its figure in front of their store or home. Most often these figures are a stylized calico in color, though gold and black varieties are common too.
Domestic cats were introduced into Japan from China and Korea in the early sixth century, but whether these cats had bobbed tails is, and shall remain, unclear. The bobbed tail was definitely common by the early seventeenth century, since tricolored cats with pom-pom-like tails have been portrayed in numerous Japanese woodcut prints and painted silkscreen paintings of that time period. Tricolored cats, mostly white with patches of red and black, are called Mi-Ke (pronounced mee-kay). Bobtails of this color pattern are considered to be harbingers of especially good luck. The Japanese treasured and honored these cats for their grace and beauty, and the cats were prized and kept in the temples and homes of the Imperial Japanese families.
At some point between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, when the Japanese silk industry grew enormously in importance, and when mice threatened to destroy the silkworms and their cocoons, the government decided that cats should be set free to protect the silk industry and the grain storage. The Japanese Bobtail then became a street cat for a while, instead of a pampered household pet.
Since there’s no doubt that Japanese Bobtails are terrific mousers, I found the following to be humorous: around 1701, in “Japan,” the first book written by a Westerner about the flora, fauna, and landscape of Japan, German doctor Engelbert Kaempfer wrote: "There is only one breed of cat that is kept. It has large patches of yellow, black and white fur; its short tail looks like it has been bent and broken. It has no mind to hunt for rats and mice but just wants to be carried and stroked by women." (www.wikipedia.org.)
While historical records do not fully explain the origin of the Japanese Bobtail’s tail, Japanese folklore does. A well-known legend tells of a sleeping cat whose tail caught on fire from a spark from an indoor hearth-fire. The terrified cat ran through the streets of the Imperial City, setting all the houses on fire. By morning, the city was burned completely, and the Emperor, livid at the destruction of the city, decreed that all cats must have their tails cut short to prevent another such disaster from occurring. Our modern knowledge of genetics makes this rather ghoulish tale seem unlikely to be true, yet the legend is still oft-repeated.
Elizabeth Freret is the first known person to have imported three Japanese Bobtails to the Western Hemisphere from Japan in 1968, and to have commenced a formal breeding program here in the U.S. The breed caught on quickly, and was accepted for Championship status in the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1976. As of 2011, there were a number of Japanese Bobtail breeders based in North America, with a few in Europe and at least one in Japan, yet the breed still remained relatively rare.
In 1993, the longhair Japanese Bobtail was also accepted by CFA for championship competition. A judge at the first CFA show in Japan in 1968 was deeply impressed by a longhaired mi-ke cat which was being shown at the event. The longhair Japanese Bobtail has existed for centuries in the orient as have the shorthairs. A large painting from the 15th century hangs in the Freer Gallery of Art in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., showing two lovely longhaired Japanese Bobtails. Their coats are neatly parted down their backs and their tails, while still bobbed, are large and plumey. Aside from its coat, the longhair Japanese Bobtail exhibits all the same traits and personality features as the shorthair Bobtail.
The short bobbed tail is a cat body-type mutation caused by the expression of a recessive gene. As long as both parents are Bobtails, all kittens born to a litter will have bobtails as well, but the progeny of only one bobtailed parent are much less likely to possess the trait. While the Manx tailless gene, which can produce superficially similar short tails, can potentially lead to certain health issues, some serious, the Bobtail gene is not known to pose any such problems. These are robust, healthy cats, which have sprung from a large gene pool for centuries.
Japanese Bobtails usually have litters of three to four kittens , with the newborns appearing unusually large compared to other breeds. They are also active earlier, walk earlier and start getting into trouble earlier, as all kittens are wont to do! A rare phenomenon in the Japanese Bobtail, especially in predominantly white specimens, is heterochromia, or eyes of different colors. Regardless of the breed, all cats with this trait are known as “odd-eyed” cats. In this breed, one iris will be blue ("silver" in Japanese breeding terms) while the other will be yellow ("gold"). The trait is more common in this breed than in most others, with the notable exception of the Turkish Van . In the Japanese Bobtail, this trait is regarded as being very special, and kittens that display it usually are more expensive than their “normie” siblings.
Most members of the Japanese Bobtail breed are active, clever, intelligent cats, with a strongly human-oriented nature. It is relatively easy to teach them to perform tricks, and they greatly enjoy human-participation activities like walking on a harness and leash, and playing fetch. Considered to be an unusually talkative breed, they very often interact vocally with people. Their soft voices are capable of nearly a whole scale of tones, along with whirs and whistles, leading to a folk belief that they can sing.
(The manga character Hello Kitty is a Japanese Bobtail, and is an exemplar of contemporary kawaii ("cute") pop culture. The character Muta from The Cat Returns was based upon a stray Japanese Bobtail that would often visit Studio Ghibli.)
“Bobs” make outstanding, sociable, and loyal companions. They're curious, bold, intelligent, and alert, and easily adjust to new people, situations, and animals, making them easy cats to introduce to a houseful of existing pets, and easy cats to show. Bobtails are active, but not annoyingly so, and their play is interactive, charming, and endearing. They want to be involved with their human companions and are more than willing to lend a paw when you need it (and even when you don't). I’m sure that Bobtails have become masterful keyboard artists in recent years too, as so many other breeds have—including my own Bengals !
Whether splashing in water, engaging in a game of fetch, or pouncing and dancing around with a beloved toy, Japanese Bobtails love to play. When not engaged in play, these busy cats are off exploring every nook and cranny, whether it involves investigating the contents of a cupboard, or leaping to the top of a bookcase for a better view of what is happening outside. These active cats are not generally lap cats. While they will settle down for a short nap, they are too busy to stay still for long, and are quickly on to the next adventure.
They also like to carry things in their mouths, and, like many other purebreds and hybrids, are likely to enjoy a good game of fetch. Masters of the pounce, these cats love to ride on shoulders. Japanese Bobtails are also excellent travelers. They don’t panic in strange hotel rooms or at shows, they adjust to dogs and other animals, and are especially good with children.
All CFA registered Japanese Bobtails can be traced back to the original imports from Japan. Any color except the Siamese pattern or Abyssinian type “agouti” is permitted, with the most popular colors being the “mi-ke” and those colors that can be used to create it: white, black, red, black and white, red and white, and tortoiseshell. Vividly contrasting colors and bold dramatic markings are preferred on the bi-colors.
The tail is not the only distinguishing physical characteristic. Japanese Bobtails have high chiseled cheekbones and large eyes set on a pronounced slant. The triangular head is topped with large, high-set ears that accentuate their appearance of alertness and inquisitiveness. They are medium-sized cats with long slender bodies and powerful hind legs just made for jumping. The deep “Z” shape of the hind quarters gives tremendous power to their leap, allowing the Japanese Bobtail to spring to great heights with considerable ease. They are extremely muscular cats with graceful flowing movements.
Females weigh between five and seven pounds, while males weigh eight to ten pounds. Japanese Bobtails are strong and healthy cats. This breed has a low kitten mortality rate and high disease resistance. Kittens born to a pair of Bobtail parents are never born totally tailless, nor are they born with full tails; all tails are, predictably, bobbed.
Like our finger prints, no two tails are ever totally alike. The tail must be clearly visible and is composed of one or more curves, angles, kinks, or any combination thereof. The longest extension of the tail bone from the body should be no more than three inches. The direction in which the tail is carried is not important in the show ring. The tail may be flexible or rigid, and should be of a size and shape that harmonizes with the rest of the structure of the cat.
The Japanese Bobtail’s coat is soft and silky, with very little undercoat. Shorthairs have a medium-length coat covering their powerful muscular bodies. The coat lies flat against the body emphasizing the stylized lines of the cat, revealing an elegant structure. The longhairs have a longer coat draping the body, with shag on the belly, and definite britches on the hindquarters beneath their chrysanthemum-like tails. The lack of undercoat in both hair lengths mean there is little shedding other than during regular seasonal coat changes. The silky texture makes the longhair also less likely to mat or tangle. A regular light combing or brushing will keep your Japanese Bobtail's coat in top condition, and your cats(s) will love you for the extra attention.
If you're looking for an active, intelligent, playful, athletic feline with elegant flowing lines, these porcelain-like cats may be just what you're looking for! Enjoy their rambunctious antics while admiring their powerful structure--all dressed up in rich deep colors and bold patterns.
When selecting a breeder from whom to purchase a Japanese Bobtail kitten, be cautious and wise in your shopping. Many breeders are very conscientious and raise their young with great care and integrity, but a few may not. Try to visit your target cattery if you possibly can; if you can’t, then get referrals from the breeders to others who have purchased kittens from them in the past, and take the time to check out those referrals. After all, you want to end up with the happiest, healthiest, bounciest kitten you can find!|
With Thanks to:
Barron’s Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds—J. Anne Holgren