Nekomata The Split-Tailed Demon Cat

Nekomata, the "forked-cat," is a Japanese bakeneko (cat-demon) that has lived so long, its tail has split in two and its powers of necromancy have increased. In Japan, mention of the Nekomata first appeared during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), where it was mentioned in the literary jottings of Yoshida Kenko in his scroll Tsurezure-gusa (The Harvest of Leisure, also known as Essays in Idleness). Yoshida wrote “Deep in the mountains there is a creature called the nekomata. It is said that it feeds on humans.” At around the same period, Fujiwara Sadaie recorded in the scroll Meigetsuki by Fujiwara no Teika in the early Kamakura period, in the beginning of Tenpuku (1233), August 2, in Nanto (now Nara Prefecture), there is a statement that a Nekomata ate and killed several people in one night. This is the first appearance of the nekomata in literature, and the nekomata was talked about as a beast in the mountains.

However, in the "Meigetsuki," concerning their appearance, it was written, "they have eyes like a cat, and have a large body like a dog," there are many who raise the question of whether or not it really is a monster of a cat, and since there are statements that people suffer an illness called the "nekomata disease," there is the interpretation that it is actually a beast that has caught rabies.

One of the most famous accounts of nekomata is the 1708 Yamato Kaiiki (Mysterious Stories from Japan) story The Nekomata Fire which tells the tale of a samurai whose house is taken over by a poltergeist-like haunting that is only ended when the family cat is killed and revealed to have two tails. This story was later adapted by Mizuki Shigeru for his comic Nekomata.

Possibly the most famous picture of a nekomata comes from the book Hyakki Zukan (An Illustrated Manual of One Hundred Weird Tales) by Sawagi Sushi. Sawagi drew an unconventional and ironic picture of a nekomata looking like a young woman playing the shamisen. At the time, shamisen were made from the stretched skin of female cats, and the cat looks to be singing a melancholy song while playing an instrument possibly made from a relative. Because the nekomata is dressed in the garb of a geisha, it is also a possible reference to a geisha whose nickname was “Cat.”


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