As the basis for traditional Japanese ceramic cats placed in doorways as a symbol of good luck -- those with a raised paw, beckoning to visitors -- the Japanese Bobtail is well-known and very popular.
The Japanese Bobtail is medium-sized and slim, though well-muscled. As its name suggests, the most striking feature of the breed is its short tail, which is about four inches long (though it curls into a corkscrew shape, making it appear even shorter). Meanwhile, its beautiful, soft, and silky coat can be found in a variety of colors and patterns.
A born show cat, the Japanese Bobtail is bold, curious, alert, and easily smitten with strangers. Always attentive and loving, the Bobtail makes for a wonderful companion. In fact, if it sees a distraught person, the Bobtail will offer a paw for comfort.
In addition, the Bobtail is extremely active and playful, especially when it comes to jumping and prancing about. It enjoys human companionship, and can even "converse" in chirping voices and a variety of tones, which has been called "singing" by some breeders.
The origin of the Bobtail is riddled with ambiguity. Although not thought of as exclusively Japanese, this ancient breed originally appears to have developed in other regions of the Far East, including Malaysia, Thailand, and Burma.
There are many references to short-tailed cats in Japanese folklore, including the story of a cat whose tail caught fire from a spark from a nearby heart. The jittery cat ran hither and yon, and set fire to houses in the Imperial city. In the morning the city was razed to the ground and the Emperor, seething with anger, passed a decree that the tail of all cats was to be chopped short to prevent another mishap.
There is also the legend of Maneki Neko, the "beckoning cat" that attracted many passerby; so much so, in fact, that its figure is now considered a symbol of good fortune in storefronts and homes. The facade of the Gotokuji Temple near Tokyo also depicts a representation of the cat, which seems to raise one paw as a sign of welcome.
Domestic cats came into Japan from China and Korea around the 6th century, though it is not known whether these cats possessed the hallmark short tail of the Bobtail.
In the 17th century many Bobtails roved the streets and countryside of Japan. There are even paintings and woodcut prints from the era depicting tri-colored cats with short tails. Most often referred to in Japan as mi-ke, the cats are white with bold patches or red and black. They were revered by the Japanese, who provided them with luxurious and pampered lives in temples and palaces.
However, the fate of the cats would forever be changed when the Japanese silk industry was threatened. When mice began destroying precious silk worms and cocoons on which Japanese silk industry thrived upon, the government declared that all cats be set free to counter the menace. The Bobtail, then forced to fend for itself on the street, was relegated to a common domestic cat.
Though it is still considered a symbol of good fortune in Japan today, the Bobtail will probably never be perceived with the symbol of status as it once was.
The first Bobtails were imported to the United States in the early 1900s, though they would not become popular until 1968, when Elizabeth Freret imported three Bobtails from Japan. Along with other like-minded breeders, Freret began a breeding program.
In 1969, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) accepted Japanese Bobtails for registration. In 1971, Bobs were granted provisional status, and in 1976 gained Championship status in the CFA.
Today, all the major cat associations accept the Japanese Bobtail for Championship. Recently a long-haired variety of the breed has staged an appearance in the U.S. and been accepted. It is now widely accepted that this long-haired variety is as old as the short-haired variety.