Japanese Bobtail

japanese bobtail

Japanese Bobtail – Ninja – photograph © Helmi Flick.

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maneki neko statue

Other than the Japanese Bobtail’s impressive and interesting appearance, the overriding topic of interest in relation to this cat is the history of the breed and the myths and stories surrounding it as they are rooted in the history of the country. Sculptures and illustrations made centuries ago apparently depict the Japanese Bobtail. A current, extremely common and commercialized depiction of this cat can be seen in the good luck charm, the Welcoming Cat. This is the Maneki Neko (“Beckoning Cat”) figurine. The figurine is a very stylized and kitsch representation of the Japanese Bobtail, beckoning a customer in.

japanese bobtail

The Japanese way to beckon is with the palm outwards and the fingers waving in. The Western way is the back of the hand outwards. The figurine is doing it the Eastern Way and Ninja, above, the Western way.

The history behind the Beckoning Cat is worth telling, briefly. There are many stories. One concerns a 17th century cat called Tama who lived with a priest. The priest wanted the cat to contribute to temple life.

Japanese Bobtail

A dignitary was visiting the temple during a rainstorm and sheltered under a tree. Tama welcomed him in. Shortly afterwards, lightning hit the tree. As a reward the dignitary helped the temple. The legend was born. This story is an amalgam of the two I recite on this page: Maneki Neko Cats. In another story from the same period a cat’s head (yes, just the head) saved the life of a geisha called Usugumo by biting the head of a snake nearby. Moments before being beheaded the cat had pulled at the hem of the geisha’s robe to alert her to the snake but an admirer thought the cat a “goblin cat” and beheaded her. The raised left arm of the figurine/statue symbolizes the arm of the cat pulling at the robe. There are apparently many other stories. The favorite colors of the Maneki Neko are the same as the cat (see below).

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“When i first saw a Japanese Bobtail I fell in love. It was the sweetest thing I have ever saw, even though it does not have a tail….” Cheyanne (Lock Haven, USA)


japanese bobtail

thumbnail photo
© Helmi Flick
japanese bobtail

thumbnail photo
© Helmi Flick
japanese bobtail

thumbnail photo
© Helmi Flick
japanese bobtail

thumbnail photo
© Helmi Flick



They are one of the oldest pedigree cats in the world. There are written accounts going back to about 2,000 years apparently1. Other sources say that it originates in 5th century BC. Let’s say it really is next to the Egyptian Mau in terms of the length of its domestication.

It is said that this cat was imported into Japan from China and/or Korea about one thousand years ago.  In 1701 a writer (travel writer perhaps) said that the Japanese only keep one type of cat, the Japanese Bobtail, with a preference for the bicolor and tricolor coat. The calico (tricolor) is called mi-ke, meaning “three-fur” (meaning three colors of fur, white, black and orange). The term calico is used in the USA. The term is tortoiseshell-and-white in the UK. See Kiku below for a calico coated cat.

It is said that cats in Japan with normal length tails might have been persecuted while cats with the bob tail were not. This would have enhanced the natural development of the Japanese Bobtail2.

There is a possibility that there is a link between this cat and the Kurilian Bobtail. These breeds do, though, have different appearances. However, the short tail of both breeds is due to the natural mutation of a recessive gene.

The Kurilian Bobtail is thought to have evolved on the Kuril Islands. These islands are off the north coast of Japan’s Hokkaido island. Russia is nearby. Some believe that the Japanese Bobtail originates from the Kurilian Bobtail. It could be visa-versa. Often the exact nature of a cat’s origins are a little hazy.

On this page, I speculate that the Japanese Bobtail of today does not come from Asia but from America. This is confusing.

They had a privileged place in Japanese society. Japan, incidentally, has good animal welfare laws which makes me surprised about their whaling exploits. The restricted gene pool in Japan ensured that the recessive gene that produces the bobbed tail become more visible in the cat population.

Here’s a potted history in table form. {return to top}

600-700 ADBelieved that the original domestic cats (the precursor to the Jap. Bob.) came with Buddhist monks to Japan from Manchuria and Korea to keep the rats from destroying the rice paper scrolls1.
1000Allegedly documentary evidence that Japanese cats, in general, came from Korea or China.
1602Due to rodents damaging silk worms affecting the silk trade (silk comes from the cocoon of the silk worm), cat owners ordered to release cats (i.e. not care for cats making them feral). This led to this breed becoming street cats.
1702Written record by travel writer of the presence of this breed being cared for in Japan.
c.1945American soldiers bring back Japanese Bobtails from Japan1.
1968Breed imported into USA by Elizabeth Freret1.
1971Provisional Status granted by CFA.
1976Championship (Full) status granted by the CFA.
1993Championship status granted to Longhaired Japanese Bobtail by CFA.
CurrentIn Japan Japanese Bobtails still wander the streets (see 1602 above). This mirrors the Egyptian Mau, a feral cat in Egypt.
Read about the history of the Japanese Domestic cat (new window)

japanese bobtail


Japanese Bobtails are “happy active cats that involve themselves in all aspects of the home“…1 The Japanese Bobtail is very playful and (subject to good socialization) get along with other cats, dogs and children in the household.

“..they go with the flow..” 1

They are active and high energy cats. Toys are going to de rigeur then. A cat tree is also recommended as they are jumpers but not “couch potatoes”. This breed is also said to be very people orientated. This may be a consequence of the exceptionally long period of domestication (from the 5th century AD). As to the appearance it is so well illustrated in Helmi’s fine photographs I won’t use too many words to describe this cat.

Also, coming soon is a discussion on the breed standard in which I discuss appearance in relation to the standard. Update: Please see Japanese Bobtail Breed Standard. Popular colors are those illustrated in Helmi’s photographs; calico (Kiku above) and bicolor black and white (Ninja, the header photograph). The pattern is a Van pattern.

You can also find this breed in solid colors, tabbies and dilute colors (creams, blues etc.). Cats with lots of white sometimes have heterochromia (odd eye color). One eye will be blue (silver) and the other yellow (gold). This is due to the white spotting gene (Piebald gene) that produces the bicolor and calico coat. The gene prevents eye pigmentation reaching one eye as well as affecting coat pigment migration.

Perhaps it is useful to compare this cat with the other bobtailed cats, particularly the Manx and the Kurilian Bobtail. The Japanese Bobtail is lighter framed and it could be said more elegant than the stocky Kurilian and Manx. The shortened tail occurs naturally and it should not be longer than 3 inches for a show cat (per breed standard). You can see that Kiku’s tail has typically fluffed up like a pom-pom on top of a hat. For the longer haired cats the pom-pom is even more pronounced. Each tail in unique and like a cat’s version of our finger print.

japanese bobtail

The tail bones are either fused together or there are one or two mobile joints. Apparently it is thought by some people that the tail has the same number of vertebrae as a “normal” tail. The tails “don’t necessarily have the same number of vertebrae1. The tail is rigid. The Japanese Bobtail is active, energetic and affectionate. They have stable characters making them good with children and other pets including dogs. You should schedule in some play time and ensure she has some companionship either human or cat or both.

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A short note about health. Japanese Bobtail breeders say that this cat does not have the same issues of potential ill-heath due to the tailless gene that are encountered with the Manx, another bobtailed cat. This is because the mutant gene is, it seems, different and recessive. There are no health issues, it seems with this breed, that are linked to the mutated gene. However, this may not be the complete picture. The gene may cause the spine to become shortened. For me the jury is out on health issues. Read about Manx cat health issues on the Manx cat page. Grooming requirements are low both for longhaired and shorthaired Japanese Bobtails. This is because there is no undercoat. It is the undercoat that catches combs. This also precludes matting. The long haired cats have semi-long hair.

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2008: I will stick to my simple test. If the breeder is in the first three pages of a Google search it indicates that they are established and organized – a fair test but only an indicator – please ask questions and visit the cattery.

Janipurr Japanese Bobtails [link] Located in the San Francisco Bay area, California, USA.

Cat-Chi Cats Located in the Washington DC area, Virginia, USA. These are the only two catteries with their own website in the first three pages as at 2008 – things change.

TICA breed standard

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1. Cat Fancy magazine August 2010 – Elisa Jordan. Forgive me for quoting verbatim sometimes but it is for the sake of accuracy and I have promoted the magazine!
2. The Encyclopedia of the Cat by Dr Bruce Fogle page 164.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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