Cats Gone Wrong: Bakeneko

Monsters from another culture are a fascinating window into premodern culture, and how they viewed the world. This includes, of all things, cats.

In Japanese mythology, there were variations on monsters, or yōkai, collectively known as bakeneko (化け猫) which means “ghost cats”. Such cats can range from cats who simply died and return as ghosts, to mischevious spirits who might harass or trick people. A popular example of a bakeneko is Jibanyan in the popular series Yokai Watch.

When looking at Jibanyan, note the double, or forked tail, and the hi-no-tama ghostly balls of fire that hover around him. These are popular images for yokai (multiple tails) and for spirits (ghost fire). The bakeneko in general is a prime example of yokai in Japanese mythology.

However, there is one particularly malevolent form of bakeneko called the nekomata (猫又), or “cat with a forked tail”. has a great article about it. Unlike the run-of-the-mill bakeneko, the nekomata is far more powerful and hostile. They are said to grow more powerful with time, and can be very large, shoot fireballs, cause plagues, etc. They even command the undead. It’s not hard to imagine a nekomata as an end-boss (BBEG) in a Japanese-themed campaign, where as the mundane bakeneko are more like nuisances, or possibly serving the nekomata in some way.

Heck, I should probably write one. 😊

Yokai in Japanese mythology in general fulfill a similar role that fey did in medieval Japanese culture: mischievous at best, terrifying at worst, and it’s fascinating how cats in particular held such a popular role in Japanese mythology.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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