• Blog
  • What is “Japanese cat”? Closing in on the secret behind Japanese cat popularity!

What is “Japanese cat”? Closing in on the secret behind Japanese cat popularity!


Hello everyone!
ReCheri Writer Chii is here(* ‘ω’ *)!

Have you ever wondered the difference between “Japanese cat” and “Hybrid cat”?

Before I checked What “Japanese cat” is, I used to have a hazy idea and just thought like “Isn’t it a native cat to Japan since it’s called a Japanese cat?!”.

But in fact, I found something very deep and interesting in my research.

Let me introduce you the difference between “Japanese cat” and “Hybrid cat” and the definition of “Japanese cat”.

What is “Japanese cat”?

You may be surprised about it, but actually “Japanese cat” does not mean a specific breed.

The general definition of a Japanese cat is “A cat that has lived in Japan for a long time and has adapted itself to the climate and lifestyle in Japan.”.

Cats firstly appeared in Japan after foreigners from China and Southeast Asia brought them on board a ship to Japan.

Those cats played a role in exterminating rats on the ship.

The cats were naturally bred and raised down through the ages in Japan, and adapted themselves to the Japanese climate.

And then they became like stray cats that we often see on the street.

Breeds such as “American Shorthair” and “Russian Blue” are so-called “purebred strain” that humans have bred them by hand and kept their characteristics constant.

On the other hand, “Japanese cat” is characterized by a difference in breeding method called “natural reproduction without human intervention”.

Therefore, the reason why common stray cats in Japan have various hair colors and patterns is that cats brought from foreign countries have naturally propagated themselves.

From this, “Japanese cat” can be said that it’s “a common hybrid cat that inhabits Japan”.

What is “Hybrid cat”?

“Hybrid cat” is a mixed breed cat by a combination of parents of different varieties.

The reason why hybrid is also called “mix” in English is it means “mixed and combined” between different breeds.

For example, a child born from a combination of parents “Russian Blue” and “Russian Blue” is a pure-bred cat called “Russian Blue”.

On the other hand, a child born through the combination of the “Russian Blue” and “American Shorthair” parents would be “mix”.

“mix” means a child born by a combination other than pure blood.

There are 3 patterns of Hybrid as below.

“Pure blood species x mix”
“Mix x Mix”
“Pure blood type A × Pure blood type B (a combination of different breeds)”

So, if your cat was not born in “Pure blood type A × Pure blood type A (same breed)”, it will be “mix”.

For this reason, a cat called “Japanese cat” can be said to be one of the “Hybrid cat”.

Then, is there a specific difference between “Japanese cat” and “Hybrid cat”?

From next, let’s look at what kind of Hybrid cats are called “Japanese cat”.

Cat types classified as “Japanese cat”

As I said earlier, “Japanese cats are hybrid”. Cats classified as “Japanese cat” have 4 characteristics of hair colors and patterns. They are called by each hair color.

Japanese cats has grown naturally without human intervention, and in the process, their hair colors and patterns became established in several kinds.

Let’s look at 4 representative characteristics of “Japanese cat” and their given names next.

Characteristics and given names of Japanese cat
Feature Given name Hair color & pattern Name in English
1. Striped Kizitra Striped pattern on beige Brown Tabby
Sabatra Striped pattern on gray Gray Tabby
Cha tora / Cha siro striped pattern on an orange-brown color (can have white parts) Marmalade cat / Ginger cat
2. Single Color Kuro neko / Shiro neko Full body is white or black. Black includes blackish brown or a faint stripe pattern. Solid Black / Solid White
3. 3 colors Mike neko 3 colors, white + brown + black Calico cat
4. 2 colors Sabi, Hachiware, Buchi Sabi is black + brown marbled pattern.

Hachiware is a black pattern like a centered forelock on white.

Buchi is black to brown dots on a white background

Sabi – Tortoiseshell

Buchi – Bicolor

The above is the characteristic hair color of typical Japanese cats. Cats with these characteristics fall into the “Japanese cat” category.

So, for example, the “Russian Blue x Persian Cat” combination is “Hybrid cat” but not “Japanese cat”.

Many cats with these characteristics live in Japan, but they live not only in Japan but also overseas.

For example, Cha tora are called “Marmalade cat” or “Ginger cat” in English, and Kizitra is called “Brown Tabby” and many people have them overseas.

Pure “Japanese cat” is decreasing

After the war, many purebred foreign cats were imported into Japan, and the number of stray cats with the combination of “Pure breed x Japanese cat” has increased.

One of the reasons why Pure “Japanese cat” is decreasing is that people were less protective toward stray cats in the past than now.

Therefore, if you trace the ancestor of a Japanese cat, there is a possibility that purebred cats are mixed at some stage.

Cats often got atavism (inheritance of characteristics by skipping one or more generations), so a Japanese cat may be born with characteristics of purebred cats.

For example, Japanese cats and American Shorthair may be mixed in some generations, but we may not be aware of it because their hair is similar to Sabatra’s.

Thus, strictly speaking, traditional “Japanese cat” and modern “Japanese cat” are slightly different.

Was “Japanese Bobtail” born overseas?!

There is a breed of cat called “Japanese Bobtail”.

It seems to be a Japanese breed because of the name “Japanese” but this breed was originated in America.

The literal translation of “Japanese Bobtail” into Japanese is “Nihon no Mijikai Shippo (Japanese short tail)”.

As the name suggests, the biggest feature of “Japanese Bobtail” is its short and curly tail.

In addition to its hair color, Japanese cats also have a feature of short tails and crooked tails.” This reason is rooted in Japanese culture and thought.

In the Edo Period, people believed that “If a long-tailed cat lives for a long time, it would become Nekomata (Cat Monsters).”.

Since Nekomata is said to have 2 tails, “a short-tailed cat” and “a crooked cat” became popular because people believe they won’t be Nekomata.

That’s why many cats with short and crooked tails has been increased in Japan.

On the other hand, as cats with short tails are very rare overseas, one of Americans was fascinated by curly tales of Japanese cats.

Then, the American took male and female cats with short tails back to his country and bred them while keeping the character of the short tails. That was the beginning of “Japanese Bobtail”.

“Japanese Bobtail” is now recognized as an official breed variety.

The gene that produces a short tail is recessive, so it is difficult to inherit unless both parents have a gene that produces a short tail.

The American was able to breed a Japanese bobtail because he brought both a male and a female with short tails back to America.

Short tails are not the definition of Japanese cats.

Because “Japanese cat” naturally bred in Japan, some cats have short tails while others have long tails.

Therefore, it cannot be said that “Short tail = Japanese cat”, but it is a kind of aspects of Japanese cat.

However, some people overseas may think that a cat with a short and curly tail is an image of a Japanese cat.

The short tail must be such unique for foreigners.

They would never imagine that cats with short tails were popular in the Edo period because they would not become Nekomata.

By the way, there are other breeds of cats with short tails such as “American Bobtail” in the US and “Kurile Island Bobtail” in Russia.

It is said that these breeds were created by mating cats whose tails were born short by mutation.

As for “American Bobtail”, there is a theory that “Japanese Bobtail” is mixed, but these 2 varieties are determined to be different now.


This time I researched about “What is a Japanese cat?” and found that it was surprisingly deep and very interesting.

You might get confused as this column is a bit complicated, so I summarize as below briefly!

“Japanese cat” is not a specific breed, but a “Hybrid cat” that has lived in Japan for a long time and bred naturally.
“Hybrid” is a general term means “Mix” by different varieties and there are 3 combinations of “Pure blood species x Mix” “Mix x Mix” and “purebred strain A × purebred strain B”.
“Japanese cat” is categorized into “Mix x Mix”. However since many Japanese cats were mixed with purebred foreign breeds after the war, purebreds blood may be combined somewhere in current “Japanese cat”.
The color and pattern of “Japanese cat” has 4 characteristics, and each color has its own name. However, these cats also live overseas.
Many “Japanese cats” have short tails, but some have long tails.
“Japanese Bobtail” is an officially recognized variety that originated in America.

Now I know that the history of cats and humans are inseparable.

Hope humans and cats will continue to coexist happily.

Please give more than a passing thought to “Japanese cat” and check stray cats and local cats if you got more interest!