Meet the Yokai
Bakeneko are regular cats that have transformed into yokai. They gain their supernatural powers with age. Their tails grow longer, their bodies bigger, and they begin to walk upright on two legs. As their power continues to grow, they learn to speak human words and summon fireballs.
Although they are not usually malicious yokai, they are said to bring misfortune to their owners with their capricious behavior and ever-changing antics and whims.
You can tell when an old cat is ready to transform into a Bakeneko because its tail becomes unnaturally long. It became a custom for some households to bob their cats’ tails to prevent them from transforming into yokai. It is also said that one must never harm or kill a Bakeneko or a great misfortune will fall upon the household.
When a Bakeneko becomes extremely old and powerful, their very long tail splits into two tails, and they become a Nekomata.
Unlike the more indifferent Bakeneko, most Nekomata were mistreated by humans and thus have a strong hatred for them. Nekomata are known for bewitching humans, shapeshifting, and animating fresh corpses. It is said that they often use their powers to torment the humans who harmed them.
The largest and most powerful Nekomata live away from society, in the form of leopards and lions, deep in the mountains, where they feed off of wild boars and travelers.
Adventures with Yokai: The Puppeteer
On a quiet moonlit night, you can sometimes hear the melancholy notes of a shamisen drifting down from the mountains.
On those nights, a lone elderly man would descend the mountain. He was blind and deaf and mute and he reeked of fish and rot. He was once a master shamisen craftsman, but time had been unforgiving.
The old man would bring random things to trade, but the villagers would just let him take what he wanted — always dried fish and lamp oil. Then, he would dodder back into the mountains, the light of his lantern bobbing clumsily in the darkness.
It was said that there was once a small remote village in those mountains. A village that was abandoned long ago, for some reason or another. Every villager had their own tale. Some even claimed that there were others living there. A wife or a beautiful daughter that the old craftsman had hidden away. Who else could be playing those somber melodies on the shamisen? But, no one in the village felt the need to find out. Instead, they would mutter about wild boars, weatherworn paths, or chores that needed tending.
One day, a foolhardy young man decided that he was not afraid of wild boars or weatherworn paths. How dangerous could it be if a decaying old man could make the trek?
And so, on one clear moonlit night, he followed the bob of the lamp light and the lament of the shamisen to the village in the mountains.
He did not encounter any wild boars, but the town was indeed abandoned. By humans at least.
Cats were lurking around every corner, perched in unlit windows, bathing in vacant shop stalls, prowling on weathered rooftops, and slipping in and out of the shadows with their long full tails and eerily yellow eyes.
The old man paid them no mind and the young man did the same. He did not care whether they hissed or followed or ignored him. Cats were queer creatures anyways.
They turned a corner and the old man’s lantern illuminated a raised platform surrounded by more cats.
The bobbing light played across their forms casting elongated shadows across the stage. The dark figures merged and writhed up the wall with each step. There were so many cats, even the shadow of the shamisen player had pointy ears and two long tails.
The young man craned his neck to see the shamisen player, but the old man’s body blocked his view.
The shamisen trembled. The old man lurched forward, flopping the lantern onto the stage. Oil sloshed onto the splintered wood.
Cats swarmed around the spill, standing on their hind legs to lick the oil. Their gleaming yellow eyes swelling into uncanny black orbs.
The shamisen stopped.
The old man crumpled.
The cats pounced on his corpse, tearing into the bundle of dried fish.
The young man staggered backwards, unable to look away until an eerily human yeowl tore his gaze from the body.
Two yellow eyes met his.
It is said that, on a quiet moonlit night, you can still hear the melancholy notes of the shamisen drifting down from the mountains. On those nights, a lone young man descends the mountain to trade — always for dried fish and lamp oil.
✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ La Fin ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿
Did you know? Fish oils were traditionally used to fuel lamps. And fish oil was a great source of needed nutrients for cats, so it was not uncommon for cats to be drawn to lamp oil.
Did you know? Although shamisen are now made with synthetic materials, they were traditionally made from the skins of dogs and cats.
Thanks for reading! (^_^)
Jason and Antonietta