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Bakeneko and Nekomata: The Supernatural Cats of Japanese Myth


Imagine a world where cats aren’t just cuddly companions, but mischievous spirits capable of shapeshifting and manipulating the very fabric of reality. This is the world of Japanese folklore, where myths and legends abound, and among them, the stories of Bakeneko and Nekomata, the supernatural cats, stand out as both fascinating and terrifying. These creatures are more than just ordinary felines; they represent the darker side of feline nature, embodying fear, superstition, and the ever-present tension between humans and the animal world.

This blog post delves into the intriguing world of Bakeneko and Nekomata, exploring their origins, characteristics, and the profound influence they have had on Japanese culture. We’ll uncover the mysteries surrounding these supernatural cats, unraveling the captivating tales that have captivated imaginations for centuries.

Table of Contents

Bakeneko: The Shapeshifting Cat

The Bakeneko, meaning “bakeneko” or “monster cat” in Japanese, is a creature steeped in folklore, a manifestation of the supernatural power attributed to cats in Japanese mythology. The origins of the Bakeneko myth are rooted in a combination of real-life cat behavior and cultural beliefs.


Cats, with their nocturnal habits, independent nature, and uncanny ability to sense changes in the environment, have always held a special place in human imagination. In Japan, cats were often associated with longevity, as they could live for many years, and were sometimes seen as guardians of the home. However, their mysterious nature also inspired fear and suspicion. The belief that cats could possess magical powers, especially those who lived for a long time, fueled the legend of the Bakeneko.


Bakeneko are known for their shapeshifting abilities, often transforming into human forms, typically of a beautiful woman or a mischievous child. This ability was often associated with the desire to deceive or harm humans. The motives behind their shapeshifting varied from seeking revenge for mistreatment to indulging in petty mischief or manipulating people for their own gain.

Besides shapeshifting, Bakeneko possessed various magical abilities. They could manipulate objects, cause misfortune, and even possess humans, controlling their bodies and minds. A Bakeneko could also drain the life force of its victims, leading to illness and even death.

Physically, Bakeneko were often described as having glowing eyes, a forked tail, and an unusually large size. Their appearance was often menacing, mirroring their supernatural abilities and the dangers they posed to humans.

Famous Bakeneko Stories

One of the most famous Bakeneko stories revolves around the tale of a cat named “Bakemono” in the Edo period. Bakemono, a seemingly ordinary cat, grew incredibly large and possessed its owner, a woman named Tama. Through Tama’s body, Bakemono wreaked havoc, manipulating people and causing chaos in the community. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of harboring ill intentions towards cats.

Another popular Bakeneko story tells of a cat who was mistreated by its owner. After its death, the cat returned as a Bakeneko, seeking revenge on its former tormentor. The Bakeneko’s cunning and relentless pursuit of its goal highlights the vengeful nature of these supernatural creatures.

Nekomata: The Split-Tailed Cat

The Nekomata, a separate but closely related entity to the Bakeneko, emerged as a distinct figure in Japanese folklore. While both are supernatural cats, the Nekomata possesses a more sinister and malevolent nature.

Evolution of the Myth

The Nekomata evolved as a separate entity from the Bakeneko due to its distinct characteristics. Unlike the shapeshifting abilities of the Bakeneko, the Nekomata was known for its split tail. This forked tail became a defining feature, symbolizing its sinister nature and the heightened power it possessed.


The split tail of the Nekomata was more than just a physical characteristic; it represented the duality and the evil within the creature. The fork in the tail was interpreted as a symbol of the Nekomata’s ability to manipulate and influence the world around it. This interpretation was further reinforced by the Nekomata’s association with fire, mischief, and the ability to inflict misfortune upon humans.

Nekomata were often depicted as malevolent spirits, actively seeking to cause harm and suffering. They possessed immense power and influence, capable of manipulating people, causing fires, and wreaking havoc in communities. Their presence was often a harbinger of misfortune and disaster.

Notable Nekomata Examples

One of the most prominent Nekomata legends centers around the story of “Bakeneko of the Tengu.” This tale tells of a Nekomata who served as a messenger for the Tengu, a mythical mountain spirit. The Nekomata’s loyalty to the Tengu and its ability to manipulate humans made it a formidable force in the mountains, serving as a reminder of the power these creatures possessed.

Another famous story involves a Nekomata named “Tama” who lived in a teahouse in Kyoto. The cat grew to an enormous size, with its split tail becoming a symbol of its malevolence. Tama terrorized the neighborhood, causing fires and inflicting misfortune on the residents.

Bakeneko and Nekomata in Modern Culture

The enduring popularity of Bakeneko and Nekomata has transcended centuries, permeating various aspects of modern Japanese culture. These supernatural cats have found their way into art, literature, and cinema, often serving as inspiration for both captivating and unsettling narratives.

Influence on Japanese Art and Media

Bakeneko and Nekomata are frequently portrayed in Japanese art, often depicted as menacing figures, their split tails and glowing eyes emphasizing their supernatural powers. They have also found their way into modern Japanese literature, appearing as characters in both traditional tales and contemporary novels, serving as symbols of the dark side of human nature and the dangers of superstition.

In cinema, Bakeneko and Nekomata have become recurring figures in horror and fantasy films, captivating audiences with their mysterious nature and unsettling abilities. Their presence in these films allows filmmakers to explore themes of fear, superstition, and the potential for darkness within the human psyche.

Global Impact

The allure of Bakeneko and Nekomata has extended beyond Japanese borders, with these creatures finding their way into global media. They have become popular figures in anime and video games, captivating audiences worldwide with their unique characteristics and captivating stories. Their popularity reflects the enduring fascination with supernatural creatures and the captivating stories that surround them.

The Enduring Legacy of Bakeneko and Nekomata

The enduring legacy of Bakeneko and Nekomata lies in their ability to encapsulate the complexities of human-animal relationships. They serve as cautionary tales, reminding us of the dangers of harboring ill intentions towards animals and the potential for darkness within the human psyche.

They also reflect the deep-rooted belief in the supernatural, the inherent fear of the unknown, and the enduring fascination with the world beyond our understanding. These creatures remain a powerful reminder of the enduring power of folklore and the influence it continues to exert on our culture and imagination.


Q1: Are Bakeneko and Nekomata the same thing?

While both are supernatural cats, they have distinct characteristics. Bakeneko are shapeshifting cats, often able to transform into human forms, while Nekomata are known for their split tails and malevolent nature.

Q2: How do I avoid attracting a Bakeneko or Nekomata?

Traditional Japanese beliefs suggest that treating cats with respect and kindness can help ward off these creatures. It is also believed that keeping a clean and organized home can discourage them from entering.

Q3: Are Bakeneko and Nekomata based on real cats?

The myths likely originated from a combination of real cat behaviors and cultural beliefs. Cats’ nocturnal habits, independent nature, and uncanny ability to sense changes in the environment might have contributed to their association with the supernatural.

Q4: What is the significance of the split tail on a Nekomata?

The split tail symbolizes the duality of the Nekomata’s nature, its ability to manipulate and influence the world around it, and its association with evil and mischief.

Q5: Where can I learn more about Bakeneko and Nekomata?

You can find more information about these creatures in books, websites, and films dedicated to Japanese folklore and mythology.


The Bakeneko and Nekomata, with their shapeshifting abilities, split tails, and mischievous or malevolent intentions, stand as powerful figures in Japanese folklore. Their enduring presence in art, literature, and contemporary media serves as a reminder of the captivating power of myth and the deep-seated connection between humans and the animal world. They also remind us of the enduring influence of folklore on our culture and imagination, as these creatures continue to fascinate and inspire us centuries later.