Getting to Know the Japanese Bobtail

By Allen Scruggs
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book Japanese Bobtail

The Japanese Bobtail is unique among breeds. It is hardy, sound and athletic yet elegant, sophisticated and looking every bit like refined Japanese porcelain. The Bobtail is a delightful loving pet. One could even say that it is one of Asia's most intriguing secrets.

The Japanese Bobtail is a medium sized cat with long clean lines. Its body is long, lean and strong, level from hip to shoulder with the hind legs much longer than the forelegs. The level back is achieved by the deep angulation of the back legs. The leg conformation clearly accounts for the unique gait exhibited by these beautiful cats. Many think that the lack of a full tail obstructs balance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their exuberant antics can, however, result in occasional household accidents. The CFA Japanese Bobtail foundation breeders wrote the standard to fit the look of the ancient Japanese Bobtail. These cats were depicted in the art of the 16th and 17th on silk screens and wood block prints usually with elegant ladies of the hierarchy . The Bobtails of antiquity were flashy, refined cats, mostly white with spots. The Japanese Bobtail of today is a living piece of preserved ancient Japanese art. It was only after the Japanese Bobtail was released out onto the streets of Japan, by an Imperial order, towards the end of the 17th century that they became a heavier and larger cat. This was the result of random breeding with street cats and survival.

The ideal Japanese Bobtail is Japanese in "look" which is to say, it has large oval, slanted eyes, high cheekbones and a noticeable whisker break. Among the important things to note, when learning correct type is that the whisker break creates a pompom not unlike the one at the other end of the cat. The pompoms at both ends create a nice balance.

The Bobtail's head should form an equilateral triangle that does not include the ears. More simply said, it is as wide as it is long. The ears should be large, upright and tilted forward even when relaxed. For show purposes both the longhair and the shorthair Japanese Bobtail are grouped in the shorthair division in CFA. The shorthair division of the breed's coat is medium in length and single coated. It is flat lying, smooth and silky requiring minimal grooming. The longhair division cats require more work similar to other longhair breeds.

The Japanese Bobtail is accepted in a variety of colors and patterns; solids, bi-colors, and tabbies, however the preferred, like the cats in ancient Japanese art is the flashy spotted bi-colors and van bi-colors (predominantly white cats with color found only on the head and tail with occasional spots on the legs). The Mi-Ke (pronounced mee-kay) or calico was once the most prized color. Today all colors compete equally. Recently more tabbies (mackerel) and a few dilute colors have found their way to the show ring. Any eye color is acceptable from gold to green including blue and odd eyed. No one eye color is preferred over another.

The tail, the very thing that first identifies the breed, is as unique to the cat as its CFA registration number. There are no known abnormalities identified with the gene(s) that produce its unique tail. Sophisticated breeders believe that the gene(s) that produces the foreshortened tail are dominant. Though there are categories into which tails fall such as the shaving brush, corkscrew, clown's pompom, fan, hook, etc, no one type is preferred as long as the tail is clearly visible and less than three inches long away from the body. Their tails, which are kinked, sometimes fused and definitely sensitive, should be gently handled. Do not try to manipulate their tails at all. Just run your hand over it lightly. Be especially careful when combing and bathing the cat not to hurt their tails. Otherwise, Bobtails should be handled like all cats with love and respect. It is delightful to see that most Bobtails will wiggle, perhaps wag their little bunny tails, a trick that always elicits a smile.

Their Asian appearance which even includes slanted eyes and erect ears complete the stylized Japanese "look" much like Kabuki or Noh players do in Japanese theater. In fact, most Bobtails seen at cat shows in the United States are parti-colored, which is to say mostly or largely white like Japanese theatrical make-up, accented by strong color (red, black, etc.). This rich, complicated history and personality also contributed to the breed's healthy upstanding nature, which make the Japanese Bobtail an excellent pet and show choice. It is sound, usually long lived and as easily housed as most breeds. Its interaction with its owners and their friends is integral to reaching its full potential on or off the show bench.

Their Personality

Japanese Bobtail

The Japanese Bobtail's personality is among the liveliest breeds. Its quick study of a situation, short attention span and mischievous response put it in a league of its own. It has a personality that would surely appeal to those who love spirited cats, not laid back. They had to be bright to survive for centuries in Japan. They learned to catch and consume vermin, cross streams (some love water) and avoid fastidious gardeners. Inquisitive by nature, Bobtails love to figure out how to open cabinet doors, hide under covers, sleep in shopping bags, big bowls and baskets, and on top of kitchen cabinets. They are playful; enjoy exercising when teased with feathers, toys, and tassels, even by wadded paper.


The shorthair Bobtail is easy to groom. Frequent combing with a "flea comb" removes dead coat, encourages new coat growth, and is greatly enjoyed by the cat as a side benefit. Kittens should learn about being groomed at a young age by getting an occasional bath and having its claws clipped and eyes cleaned. The longhair Bobtail requires more careful grooming. It should be blown dry following its bath (not so for the Shorthair) along with more extensive brushing to maintain the good-looking longer coat.

Breed History

Japanese religion and fine art incorporate superb illustrations of the Bobtail throughout its history. Tokyo's Gotokuji Temple (constructed in 1697) was dedicated to the Japanese Bobtail which is represented by the Maneki Neko or good luck, beckoning cat. Numerous silk and hand made paper scroll paintings, woodblock prints and netsuke (small decorative carved objects used as toggles to fasten a pouch or purse to the kimono sash) attest to this cat's status in fine art. Internationally acclaimed artists such as Chi Kanoliu (1874), Toyokune (1786-1864), even the great Hiroshige as well as Shosan and Hiromi used the Bobtail in their work.

Exactly when or where the mutation that created the bobbed tail occurred is probably lost forever. Bobbed-tailed cats are seen in most of the Orient, indicating that the event probably happened in prehistoric times. Bobtails were possibly brought to Japan from Korea in the Sixth Century or later during the reign of Emperor Idi-Jo (986-1011) to protect manuscripts from mice. Bobtails were only owned by members of the court. They later became street cats when in 1602 Japan's silk industry was threatened with total devastation due to an over abundance of vermin and an Imperial order was passed that all cats were to be set free. It was forbidden to house, feed, buy, sell or exchange cats as gifts. The diminutive bobtailed cats of Japan took to the task of dealing with the rodents with exuberance and the silk worms soon thrived again. Only the smartest and strongest cats survived their sudden abandonment to the streets of Japan. From that time to the present the Bobtails of Japan have been the street and farm cats. They are noted for their cunning, intelligence and vigor. It was only after the Japanese Bobtail was released out onto the streets by Imperial order that they became a heavier and larger cat. This was the result of random breeding with street cats and survival.

The shorthair Bobtail was accepted for CFA registration in 1969, achieved Provisional status in 1971 and full Championship recognition in 1976. The Japanese Bobtail first gained American attention in the 1960s principally from American military families living in Japan. The first kittens imported in 1968 were carefully bred and selected by an American in Japan to display the look of the ancient Japanese Bobtail depicted in Japanese art of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Recognizing the need for the Japanese Bobtail to be clearly distinguishable from the tailess Manx, the CFA Board of Directors granted acceptance to the leaner, longer more porcelain-like cat. The cobbier, heavier boned look was to remain favored by Manx fanciers.

The Japanese Bobtail almost lost its championship status with CFA in the 70's. There were very few cats being shown that met the standard. Most of the earlier Bobtails shown were more like the street cats of Japan, a larger, coarser and more heavily colored cat. Thankfully, a few dedicated breeders insisted on breeding to the standard for a refined, flashy little cat which is what we see today in the cat fancy.

The breed's history in the United States is one that has enjoyed increasing recognition on all levels, regionally and nationally. It has enjoyed a long, distinguished list of National, Regional and Distinguished Merit winners, which testify to the breeds' competitive edge.

Longhair Bobtails were seen for years in the fine art of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. In the United States, they sometimes appeared in shorthair litters and were "petted out." Because of its longer hair, the longhair Japanese Bobtail has a ruff, "britches" with a bigger and fluffier tail. Its body coat is also longer and not considered as plentiful. Like the Shorthair, however, it is single coated, smooth and silky. They were accepted to AOV (any other variety) status in February 1991. From that date until they became eligible for full Championship competition, in May of 1993, a number of enthusiasts showed them far and wide. The enthusiasm of breeders, exhibitors, judges and pet buyers proved strong.

One has heard for years that the Japanese have not prized the Japanese Bobtail as we have. Many Bobtails were shown, some still are, as household pets in Japan. Now, however, there are a growing number of Japanese cat fanciers focusing on their native breed.

American-bred Japanese Bobtails are even making their way back to Japan, rather like taking coals to Newcastle.

The Japanese Bobtail has learned to adapt quickly. It can delight people of all ages with their exquisite appearance and charming skirmishes. They talk (presumably in Japanese), though not as much as Siamese. Occasionally they retrieve and are often cliquish when kept in numbers. The Bobtail had to evolve into what we present-day enthusiasts appreciate as a singularly extraordinary breed. This ancient mutation along with its difficult environment has experienced a "survival of the fittest" form of development, which in turn has created a splendid cat.

The Japanese aesthetic is a unique one including its fascinating cultural icons such as Kimono clothing, Raku pottery, Haiku poetry, even its food and drink, sushi and sashimi, green tea and sake, but also its distinctive flora and fauna as well. Centuries of isolation on the Japanese islands account for such exotic refinement. Those same qualities definitely assure its place as a superb pet, as well. To paraphrase the old advertisement, "Bet you can't have just one."

The feline expression of that aesthetic, the Japanese Bobtail, is delightful, charming and intensely beautiful. Their beguiling personalities and flashy appearance surely enhance their popularity, both in the show hall and in the homes of people fortunate enough to be sharing their lives with this wondrous breed.

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