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    Japanese Bobtail

    Japanese Bobtail

    Place of origin

    Japan and throughout eastern Asia


    In the Far East, cats with various degrees of kinked tails are frequently found. Bobtail cats were known in China in the twelfth century, and illustrations of primarily white cats with pom-pom tails are seen repeatedly in Asian art dating back centuries. They are believed to have come to Japan from China more than a millennium ago. "Kimono cats," white cats with a black spot on their back resembling a woman in a Kimono, were historically presented to Japanese temples as the embodiment of the soul of a family's ancestor. Calicos, known as Mi-Ke, are depicted in both Japan and China as "beckoning cats," welcoming a person into a temple or household.

    The name "Malay cat" was attributed to these cats by early naturalists. In 1783, William Marsden, fellow of the Royal Society, described the bobtailed Malay cat in his History of Sumatra: "All their tails imperfect and knobbed at the end." Other travelers to the Malayan Archipelago corroborated his report. Bobtailed cats were sighted in Portugal in the 1870s, and the trait attributed to a supposed Portuguese custom of pinching or breaking the tails of newborn kittens. Most likely, these cats were descended from cats brought back by Portuguese traders in the Far East. In the 1880s, some of these Malay cats were exhibited as curiosities in the Netherlands and in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris.

    Bobtailed mutations have occurred independently in various geographic areas, especially on islands due to inbreeding caused by the closed gene pool. Colonies of bobtailed cats exist on some Greek islands and on Spain's Canary Islands.

    In many breeds, achieving a perfectly straight tail without any abnormalities can be a challenging aspect of breeding a perfect show cat. However, in the Japanese Bobtail, a tail that is foreshortened due to kinking of the vertebrae is a cherished trait. The tails of these cats are not docked by breeders (as occurs in some dog breeds) nor are they missing vertebrae (as is seen in the Manx cat).

    Because Japanese Bobtails have been around in Japan for centuries, Japanese cat fanciers did not take a lot of interest in them, preferring to focus on imported breeds. This mirrors the development of the cat fancy in Britain and the United Stated, where local shorthairs tended to be overlooked in favor of more exotic-looking imported varieties. Little regarded in Japan, these bobtailed felines attracted the interest of American breeders, who gained recognition for the breed in the United States in 1978. Hence the development of the Japanese Bobtail as an exhibition breed was primarily performed outside of its native country. Since then, however, pedigree Japanese Bobtails have gone full circle back to Japan. The semilonghaired version has always existed in Japan (long hair is due to a recessive gene) but was not given breed status until 1991.

    Genetic studies have found the Japanese Bobtail breed to be more closely related to Western cats than to Asian cats, although the breed shows some Asian genetic influence. This may be because the exhibition Japanese Bobtail was developed as a breed in the United States beginning in 1968, when the first cats were imported, and the gene pool is more greatly influenced by European and American cats than by Asian cats.

    Physical description

    The Japanese Bobtail is an elegant cat with long, fine-boned legs and a semilong body. The head is triangular in shape with distinctive high cheekbones, large expressive eyes, and upright ears. No two bobbed tails are exactly alike, varying in length and pattern of kinks. The cats are often able to wiggle their tails when excited. The coat is fine-textured, without a wooly undercoat, even in the longhaired variety.

    This breed's defining feature is its bobbed tail. The normal feline tail ranges from 8 to 12 inches (20–30 cm), depending on breed. If fully extended, the Japanese Bobtail's tail would be 4.5 to 5.25 inches (10–13 cm) long, but due to the variable kinked structure of the tail, it appears only 1.5 to 3 inches (4–7 cm) long. It is often possible to feel a bony knot inside the kink where vertebrae have fused, which also means the tail cannot be straightened. Adding to the effect, the tail hair often grows straight out in all directions, producing a rabbitlike scut or pom-pom appearance.

    Colors and varieties

    Although the Japanese Bobtail is accepted in almost all colors, the most popular is that of a primarily white cat with vivid, dramatic markings of black and/or red. The tricolor female cat is known as a Mi-Ke. This breed is accepted in both short- and longhaired varieties. In Japan, Biblebobtails are found in all colors, including ticked tabby (Abyssinian pattern) and colorpoint, although these are not accepted in the Western fancy.


    One of the most active of the cat breeds, this highly intelligent breed will wrap you around its paw in short order. This is not a breed that does well left alone in a household for a long period of time. It does best with children or other pets to provide continuous stimulation and amusement. Japanese Bobtails need to be in the middle of household activities, contributing a helpful paw. They are highly devoted to their owners.

    Activity level


    Vocal level


    Special needs

    The Japanese Bobtail, due to an extensive gene pool from a large natural population, is a healthy, long-lived breed that requires little grooming or special care. The tail should be handled gently.


    The bobtail trait is widespread in Asia and parts of Russia. The Karel Bobtail (Karelian) from the coasts and islands of Lake Ladoga and the Kurilian Bobtail (Curilsk) from the Russian Island of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands are natural breeds undoubtedly closely related to the Japanese Bobtail. The Karel Bobtail is a svelte cat with a pompom tail, while the Kurilian Bobtail is smaller and cobbier. Both occur in shorthaired and semi-longhaired forms and are sturdier and larger than the Japanese Bobtail.

    Other Asian bobtailed breeds that are being developed include the Mekong Bobtail and Thai Bobtail (confusingly, the latter name is given to two different breeds). The Mekong Bobtail is a colorpointed bobtailed cat of moderate conformation. The Malaysian Thai Bobtail is a naturally occurring bobtailed variety, most often colorpointed, of Oriental/Burmese type found in Thailand and Malaysia. The Russian Thai Bobtail resembles a round-headed Siamese with a bobbed tail, whereas the Toy-Bob or Toy Bobtail is a miniature version.

    The Malay cat, widely reported in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, is similar to the Japanese Bobtail but has not been adopted as a formal breed. Naturally occurring colorpointed cats of Japanese Bobtail type are sometimes referred to as Si-Bobs or Si-Bobtails. In 1988, the Cat Association of Britain finalized the standard for the "Oriental Bobtail"-a cat of oriental (or foreign) conformation and coat, but with a bobbed tail. Since then, little has been heard of this breed.

    Kurilian Bobtail

    Japanese Bobtail

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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