Japanese Bobtail Cats
The Japanese Bobtail is a breed of domestic cat with an unusual “bobbed” tail more closely resembling the tail of a rabbit than that of other cats. The short tail is a body-type mutation caused by a recessive gene. The variety is native to Japan and Southeast Asia, though it is now found throughout the world. The breed has been known in Japan for centuries, and it frequently appears in traditional folklore and art.
As in most other breeds, Japanese Bobtails may have almost any color (or colors, arranged in any number of patterns). Predominantly-white calicoes (literally ‘triple-hair’) are especially favored by the Japanese and by cat fanciers, and strongly represented in folklore, though other colorations are also accepted by breed standards.
One theory of short-tailed cats in Japan indicates that they arrived from the Asian continent at least 1,000 years ago. In 1602, Japanese authorities decreed that all cats should be set free to help deal with rodents threatening the silk worms. At that time, buying or selling cats was illegal, and from then on, bobtailed cats lived on farms and in the streets. Japanese Bobtails thus became the “street cats” of Japan.
Around 1701, in Kaempfer’s 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.”
In 1968, Elizabeth Freret is the first known person to have imported the Japanese Bobtail to the Western Hemisphere from Japan. The breed was accepted for Championship status in the Cat Fanciers’ Association in 1976. As of 2011, there are a number of Japanese Bobtail breeders based in North America, with a few in Europe and at least one in Japan, yet the breed remains rare.
The Japanese Bobtail is a recognised breed by all major registering bodies, with the exception of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).
A show-quality shorthair Japanese bobtail displays the characteristics of the breed.
Head: The head should form an equilateral triangle. (Not including ears)
Ears: Large, upright, set wide apart but at right angles to the head and looking as if alert.
Muzzle: Fairly broad and round neither pointed nor blunt.
Eyes: Large, oval rather than round. They should not bulge out beyond the cheekbone or the forehead.
Body: Medium in size, males larger than females. Long torso, lean and elegant, showing well developed muscular strength. Balance is also very important.
Neck: Not too long and not too short, in proportion to the length of the body.
Legs: Long, slender, and high. The hind legs longer than the forelegs.
Toes: five in front and four behind.
Coat (Shorthair): Medium length, soft and silky.
Coat (Longhair): Length medium-long to long, texture soft and silky gradually lengthening toward the rump.
Tail: The tail must be clearly visible and is made up of one or more curved articulations.
While calicoes, including van patterns (color on the crown of the head and the tail only), are favored by many, any coat color or pattern of colors is permissible.
The short tail is a cat body-type mutation caused by the expression of a recessive gene. Thus, so long as both parents are bobtails, all kittens born to a litter will have bobtails as well, but 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.
Japanese Bobtails usually have litters of three to four kittens, with newborns that are unusually large compared to other breeds. They are active earlier, and walk earlier than many other breeds.
Rarely, a Japanese Bobtail, especially a predominantly white specimen, may have heterochromia, or eyes of different colors. Regardless of breed, cats with this trait are known as odd-eyed cats. In this breed, one iris is blue (“silver” in Japanese breeding terms) while the other is yellow (“gold”). This 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 popular and kittens displaying it usually are more expensive.
On average, members of the breed are active, intelligent cats, with a strongly human-oriented nature, are easier to train to perform tricks than most breeds, and are more likely to enjoy learning human-mediated activities like walking on a harness and leash, and playing fetch. Considered an unusually “talkative” breed, they often interact vocally with people. Their soft voices are capable of nearly a whole scale of tones, leading to a folk belief that they can sing.