Dr. Desmond Morris makes an interesting statement in his book Cat World. He writes about the Japanese Bobtail and says that the popularity of this short-tailed cat in Japan is partly due to the fact that there is a Japanese folk myth called a ‘bakeneko’ which warns that long-tailed cats can change into human form and bewitch their owners.
Bakeneko means “changed cat” in the English language. It is a type of Japanese supernatural entity (yōkai).
In the Edo period, (1603-1867), a folk-belief held that longtailed cats could bewitch people like snakes. Consequently they were disliked. This led to the custom of amputating their tails. Speculation states that it is the reason why there are so many short-tailed or bobtailed cats in Japan. Superstition led to the belief that an older cat’s tail split into two and the cat became a bakeneko as you can see in the illustration below.
Wikipedia state that “natural selection having favored those with short tails”. What they might be implying is that cats with long tails were killed leaving behind a higher percentage of bobtail cats which mated and through informal artificial selection created a higher percentage of bobtail cats in Japan. That’s my possible interpretation. This is not stated by the Wikipedia authors but it arguably follows from what they state. And it is different to what they state.
And, in Yamagata District, Hiroshima Prefecture, which is in the south of Japan, myth or legend has it that a cat raised for seven years or longer will kill the person who raised the cat. Because of this superstition cat owners apparently decided in advance for how long they would live with their cat companion. What I’m saying is that in some areas cats were killed by humans before the seven years was up. These cats would become bakeneko and curse the human who killed them. Bakeneko stories can sometimes refer to the revenge of cats brutally killed by their owner.
Bakeneko cats have special powers attributed to them including shape shifting into humans. They can speak human words and curse and possess humans. They lurk in the mountains and bring wolves with them to attack travellers.
The fandom.com website says that bakeneko are ghost or monster cats which are live long enough to become yōkai and gain supernatural powers according to Japanese mythology.
They say that there is a belief that when stray, feral and domestic cats reach a certain age they acquire supernatural powers and transform into yōkai. They start to walk on their hind legs and can become as big as an adult human. They like to dress up as humans with a towel wrapped around their head. And they dance contentendly. They learn to speak human languages. They can eat poisonous foods without any problems. They can even eat their master and take his form. If they don’t kill their owner they can curse them and bring misfortune upon them.
The fandom.com website say that they acquire these powers after about the age of 13 and when they’ve grown to over 3.75 kg in weight. If a domestic cat has an exceptionally long tail it is believed that they are becoming a bakeneko.
Clearly tail length is a real problem for some Japanse citizens in the past. I don’t know how prevalent this belief is today. But the Japanese bobtail is popular in Japan but it does not feature in popularity charts in America or Europe.
The obvious conclusion that I am drawn to is that supersition, as usual, results in cat cruelty. The greatest example of this is the persecution of domestic and stray cats during the Middle Ages when religious superstition lead people to believe that cats were witches familiars; the incarnation of the devil. Many thousands of cats were brutally killed. In that black era of human madness, it was not the cat who was possessed by the devil, but humans.
Below are some more pages on superstitions.