Kaibyo - Yokai Cats

Cats are enormously popular in Japan but when it comes to folklore, there are a collection of  supernatural cats that are quite terrifying.

Bakeneko

Bakeneko are changing cats, a type of yokai that is able to take human shape and blend in with society. It is believed that once cats have lived their full lifespan, they are able to transform from regular cats into yokai. In some versions of the folklore it is believed that a bakeneko can transform sooner if they drink the blood of murder victims.

Even if these monster cats retain their cat form, they are able to speak human language, wear human clothes and have even been known to dance around with tea towels over their heads. But if you are a cat owner you must be especially careful.

Kunisada, 1853
Some tales tell of cats who transform into bakeneko, eat their owners, take on their form and continue living on in their place. So if you have cat-owning friends do beware if they start to behave a little differently.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Nekomata

Nekomata are another type of cat yokai in Japanese folklore. It is believed that when house cats live to a very old age, their tail will split in two and they begin to walk on their back legs. These creatures then possess supernatural powers and are capable of evil deeds.

"Nekomata" from the Hyakkai Zukan by Sawaki Suushi
Some suggest that this folklore came about because cats were known to lick the oil from lamps, which often meant they were up on their hind legs. When this was viewed in the shadowy darkness, the idea of a cat that was able to walk around and act like a human was born.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1847.
Traditionally nekomata were known to be terrifying and quite fond of eating humans. They are often depicted in art playing traditional Japanese instruments. In modern times they are seen as cute rather than as the terrifying monsters that were feared in the past.

From Hyakki zukan - Sawagi Sushi, 1737

Kasha

The kasha is another fearsome cat yokai. The word kasha roughly translates as flaming cart. Originally  this folklore was linked to Buddhist beliefs and superstitions around death. It was believed that if thunder was heard during a funeral, a kasha was on it's way to snatch the dead body. 

From Gazu Hyakki yagyo - Toriyama Sekien, 1176
The practice of placing stones on coffins was to stop the corpses from rising up and joining the kasha in its fiery cart. It was also important never to leave a cat alone with a dead body lest he transform into a kasha and drag the corpse away.

Matthew Meyer

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