It’s time for my next ghost story. While last time I told you about the Kappa, this Yōkai is called Bakeneko. Long ago many ideas existed about when a cat might become a Bakeneko a cat with shapeshifting abilities akin to those of the fox or raccoon dog. In Japanese folklore, any cat that lives over one hundred years, reaches one Kan (3.75 kilograms) in weight or is kept for a certain number of years can become a Bakeneko (化け猫), a ghost cat. Cats that were caught drinking lamp oil (that was based on fish oil at that time) were also considered to be Bake-neko. Sometimes they were said to have three or seven tails. When the tail forks in two, the Bakeneko is called a Nekomata (猫又), forked cat.
Bake-neko are said to have powers of necromancy because of their ability of manipulating corpses like puppets in ritual-like dances, gesturing with paw and tail. Cats were also strongly associated with the dead, and a cat belonging to a recently deceased person was viewed with much suspicion, sometimes locked away to keep it from becoming a Kasha, a kind of demon that descended from the sky to steal corpses, and which often had a cat-like form. Cats are also believed to reanimate fresh corpses by jumping over them.
A Bakeneko can walk on its hind legs, take a humanoid form, enter someone’s dreams, devour people and steal their identities and eat anything, no matter what it is. But there are also faithful and benevolent Bake-neko. The popular Maneki Neko (招き猫), beckoning cat that is supposed to bring good fortune to the storekeeper is a Bakeneko’s doing. A Bakeneko once entered a dream of an impoverished old mistress telling her to manufacture its image in clay in order to bring her wealth. This lucky cat charm has spread all over the world.
There are many legends about the bake-neko in Japan most of these stories however are told orally.
A famous bake-neko story is about a man named Takasu Genbei, whose pet cat of many years went missing just as his mother’s personality changed completely. The woman started shunning company and taking her meals alone in her room, and when the curious family peered in on her, they saw not a human being but a feline monster in the old lady’s clothes, chewing on animal carcasses. Takasu, with much reluctance, slew what looked like his mother, and after a day had passed the body turned back into the same pet cat that had gone missing. After that Takasu miserably tore up the tatami mats and the floorboards in his mother’s room, only to find the old woman’s bones hidden there,
gnawed clean of flesh.
To learn more about this shifty creatures and see other pictures read on ~
Another story is about a cat owned by a high-ranking Geisha. Every time she would try to go to the toilet, the cat would claw at her robes to keep her away from the toilet and even when killed for its strange behavior, still managed to use its ghostly head to bite to death the lurking snake that threatened her.
Yet another story tells of an poor old couple who kept a small cat. Since they were unable to bear children, they came to treat the cat as their child. After the old man fell sick, a mysterious woman appeared on their doorstep, claiming to be the cat and swearing she would repay their kindness. She brought the couple much wealth; in some versions they were happy just to have a daughter. One of her admirers happened to see her in her true form so she pleaded that he not tell anyone. A few weeks later he broke his promise telling a fisherman and passengers on a ship what he’d seen. A vicious storm arose and the woman appeared in the clouds overhead. She grew into a large cat and killed him.
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Bakeneko in pop-culture
In Naruto, Kakuzu and Hidan find the two-tailed bijuu which has the appearance of a giant nekomata when fully materialized.
In Inu Yasha, Kirara, Sango’s demon companion, is a type of nekomata that can transform from a cute two-tailed cat-like creature into a large demon surrounded in flame and capable of flight.
In Bleach, Yoruichi Shihōin has the ability to transform from human to cat. Byakuya Kuchiki referred to her as a Bakeneko in his younger days.
There are many more Bakeneko appearances! you can find them all here
Stay tuned for September’s monstrous Yōkai!