Cats in the 19th Century (Part 18-Japanese Demon Cat)

Japanese Demon Cat

Demon cat stories persisted into the 19th century in Japan, and the story The Cat-Witch of Okabe was reenacted on stage.  In order to terrify the young virgins at the local temple, the witch-cat disguised herself as an old woman.  In Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s depiction of a kabuki performance of about 1835, an evil woman with large cat ears and  paws kneels in the center, with a huge, glaring cat, her protector, crouched behind her while two samurai on each side attempt to kill her.  Next to each of the samurai is a cat with a cloth wrapped around its head dancing on its hind legs. The cloth on the cat’s head represents the folk belief that a cat would steal a napkin to wear on its head and dance with other cats and howl at the top of their voices, “Neko ja! We are the cats!”  This would be done in a temple hall or a place which was supposed to remain quiet (Rogers, 2006, p. 57) .

Cat Witch of Okabe Wood block print Utagawa Kuniyoshi 1865-Japanese demon cat

Cat Witch of Okabe
Wood block print
Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Another Japanese story of menacing cat witches occurs when a samurai witnesses cats performing a crazed, violent dance when he enters a temple for the night.  Instead of yelling “Neko ja!” the cats were screaming “Tell it not to Schippeitaro”.  The next day the samurai learned from the nearby villagers that once a year the cats forced them to imprison their most beautiful maiden in a cage and demanded that she be taken to the temple for sacrifice.  The samurai then asked who or what Schippeitaro was.  The villagers told him Schippeitaro was a courageous dog who belonged to the village’s chief. The samurai decided he wanted to help the villagers, so he took the dog, and put him in the cage instead of the girl.  This he carried to the temple.  The ghost cats appeared at midnight with their leader an extremely large vicious tomcat, a bakeneko.  Growling with expectation, the tomcat jumped on to the cage and opened the door only to find Schippeitaro waiting for him.  Schippeitaro grabbed the great tom, and the samurai killed the surprised cat with his sword.  The courageous dog then killed the rest of the cats and the village was freed from the curse.



Japanese Demon Cat



Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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