THE JAPANESE BOBTAIL has been known as a domestic cat in Japan, Korea, and China for at least 1,000 years. Its first mention in Japanese literature, in a manuscript written by the tutor to the Empress of Japan, dates from about the year 1,000.The Bobtail appears widely in Japanese paintings and other artifacts, and on the facade of the Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo there is a specimen with its paw raised, symbolizing good luck.
ORIGINS OF THE BREED
Often beautifully marked, the Bobtail’s outstanding feature is the curious tail structure which gives it its name. This is not, however, a hybrid or a mutation. The Japanese Bobtail is a natural breed. The shortened, rigid tail is due to a recessive gene and is maintained only by Bobtail to Bobtail matings. There are no genetic problems such as those associated with the Manx. The breed is recognized in North America but not in Britain. No out-crossing is allowed.
In Japan, the Bobtail is regarded as commonplace, although the white, red, and black tri-color – known as the tortie and white to the British cat fancy and as calico to Americans – is especially favored. It is known in Japan as the Mi-Ke (pronounced mee-kay), meaning three-furred. The story is that the first cats to arrive in Japan from mainland South East Asia were black, followed by white, and then by orange (red). It is said that the Mi-Ke became such a favorite pet among the ladies of the Japanese court that the absence of the cat from mousing duties at silk farms threatened the silk industry. Consequently, in 1602 the Emperor ordered all cats to be sent back to the farms. Pictures and figures of the Mi-Ke are often used commercially as a welcoming symbol in store windows.
Like other tortoiseshells, the traditional Mi-Ke Bobtail is almost invariably female. Natural male Bobtails are white with either red or black random markings, but other color varieties have also been introduced.
BREED IS ESTABLISHED
INTEREST IN THE Bobtail outside Japan began when an American member of the occupying forces after the Second World War began to breed them. In 1963 American cat fanciers visiting a Japanese cat show
were very much impressed with the breed, which was new to them, and five years later the first Bobtails – a Mi-Ke female called Madame Butterfly and a red and white male called Richard arrived in the United States. Their kittens established the breed in America. It was accepted for registration in 1969 and for Championship status in 1976.
THE VESTIGIAL TAIL is usually about 2 in (5 cm) long, although if straightened out it would be about twice this length. Its crookedness is concealed by the hair, which grows outward all round to form a pom-pom.
Show standards require the Bobtail’s body to be medium in size, long, and lean but shapely and well-muscled. The shoulders should be as wide as the rump. The legs are long, slender, and high but not dainty or fragile in appearance. The hind legs are longer than the forelegs but are bent in repose so that the cat presents a level back, not raised at the rear. The tail is carried upright. The head should form an equilateral triangle between ear tips and chin, with gently curving cheeks, high cheekbones, and a whisker break. The nose is long with a gentle dip at, or just below, eye level. The ears are large, upright and expressive, set well apart and appearing to tilt slightly forward. The eyes are large, oval, and slanted. They should appear wide and alert.
The Japanese Bobtail’s coat is medium length, soft and silky with no undercoat, longer on the tail than elsewhere. Preference goes to the traditional Mi-Ke pattern: large patches of black and red on white, with white predominating. But any color or pattern is allowed except for color points and ticked tabby.
AS A NATURAL BREED with a long heritage, the Bobtail is hardy and has no inherent health problems. It has a quiet voice, but uses it a good deal in an extended language of chirps and meows. Bobtails make affectionate pets, often greeting their owners with a wave of the paw. They do not like being confined and should have access to the outdoors including if possible the opportunity to swim, which they enjoy. Breeders say that although Bobtails will mix with other cats they prefer the company of their own breed. Grooming is easy because there is no undercoat to get tangled or knotted. A typical litter is four. The kittens are normally healthy and develop more quickly than in many other breeds.