Learn more about the Japanese Bobtail
The Japanese Bobtail
by Allen Scruggs
The Japanese Bobtail is absolutely the most wonderful breed of them all! I will even go all the way out on the limb’s last twig to include all domestic pets. Twelve plus years in the breed; many wins and losses: endless club participation (founding, editing, etc.); numerous breed articles, displays, magazine editorial spreads; .and most recently, the unimaginable sadness of having lost many Bobtails in a dreadful fire. ALL uniquely endorse that very personal statement.
Intelligent, fun, playful, affectionate, spirited, beguiling, elegant, beautiful, exquisite. One could collect a seemingly endless number of descriptive words about the breed’s personality and appearance and still not capture the full joy of the Japanese Bobtail. The breed’s unique tail and gait, Asian appearance, delightful mischief making and showmanship are all part and parcel of the Japanese Bobtail – that, and much, much more.
It is always delightful to vicariously experience a new owner’s addiction to and crusade for the Bobtail. Likened to the surprise and fun of opening gifts, winning at gambling or even enjoying the succinct descriptive beauty of Haiku (Japanese poetry known for deep meaning in surprisingly few words), Japanese Bobtail enthusiasts are likely to wax on and on about their attributes and antics. A few, briefly shared would include the fact that some love water, others retrieve, all talk (Japanese – naturally!), most jump and some, especially in numbers, exhibit cliquish behavior towards other breeds – though rarely towards dogs or even birds! They are a hardy lot, as might be expected from a breed which for centuries was relegated to Japanese streets and farms in pursuit of vermin. Their health, soundness and upstanding nature make them ideal pets and superb show cats.
AMERICA’S FIRST BOBTAILS
It is no wonder that the breed caught the eye of influential cat fanciers in the early 1960s. Elizabeth Freret, a well-known Abyssinian breeder as well as a sharp attorney, joined forces with CFA Judges Lynn Beck, Don Thompson and Virginia Wolfe, and their efforts were key to the eventual recognition of the Bobtail. Their place in the history of our breed is secured. Those of us who are now such strong supporters of the breed are forever indebted to them.
In August of 1968 Elizabeth Freret picked up three Japanese Bobtail kittens (Judiko’s Madame Butterfly of Amulet, a mi-ke; Judiko’s Richard San of Amulet, a red and white; and a “cinnamon tabby”) at Dulles Airport. Those three kittens proved to be the breed’s foundation stock. From the time Ms. Freret saw her first Bobtail, a red tabby spay boarded in a Maryland pet show for a service family just back from Japan, until that day in 1968, it had taken her over a year to make arrangements to get those cats. Ms. Freret (Amulet Cattery) had met CFA Japanese Judge Bess Higuchi at the Empire show in New York in 1967. Upon her return to Japan, Ms. Higuchi arranged with Judy Crawford, an American living in Yokohama, Japan, to send the kittens to Ms. Freret. In an effort to assure that the first Bobtails sent to “The New World” were of the best possible quality, Ms. Crawford bred some 36 kittens from which she selected those first three. After all, they were to be the first ambassadors to the United States!
During the same period of time, Lynn Beck started importing Bobtails through an agent in Tokyo. She and her husband loved the Orient and made numerous trips there, including two judging assignments. Lynn saw her first Bobtail in Japan at a CFA show on an army base – in the household pet class, naturally. Lynn imported eight cats – three males and five females. She, too, sought the help of Judy Crawford and sent her favorite cat, “Obasan,” to Crawford for breeding – rather like sending coals to Newcastle! Sadly, Obasan escaped from her quarters and was never found. Lynn’s delightful Bobtail stories are as fascinating as the breed itself. One story relates the way she smuggled a young kitten on her plane, in a picnic basket which had been given to her by one Osanacha, a Tokyo brothel owner! Lynn frequently exhibited Bobtails prior to their recognition – for exhibition only. She also founded the first CFA breed club, The Japanese Bobtail Cat Club. Every year for seven years Lynn petitioned the CFA Board for breed recognition. She and Elizabeth Freret wrote the first standard. In September of 1968 Ms. Freret took “Butterfly” and her new American-born kittens, sired by “Richard,” to the CFA Board Meeting in Trenton, New Jersey. From all accounts they charmed their way around the board table. Ms. Freret and her group had done their homework; they were prepared with a description of the cats’ background, a proposed standard and a well-respected book, The Life, History and Magic of The Cat by Fernand Mery, which contained an illustration of ten or so short-tailed cats in Japan. Ms. Freret sought CFA registration as the first step toward full recognition. Since Japan had no registry, the concern was that sufficient authentic Japanese Bobtail imports could be brought into this country. In the breed’s favor was (and still is) the fact that it was forbidden to outcross to any other breed. Acceptance was indeed granted at that meeting. It should be stated that CFA President and Judge Richard Gebhardt and fellow judge Jane Martinke were instrumental in the breed’s early development and its standard. Ms. Martinke even wrote eloquently about the breed.
In addition to Judy Crawford, Dr. Masurori Kojuma, a Tokyo veterinarian, and Mrs. Alan (Connie) Bath, then wife of the Assistant Naval Attache to the Tokyo Embassy, exported Japanese Bobtails to Ms. Freret. At about the same time Jean Kryszcuk, of Buffalo, New York, secured papers on a male cat brought back from Japan by a service family. These later imports provided a much needed wider gene pool from which to breed. Bobtail breeders Charlene Brake (Nekosong), Marianne Clark (Kurisumasu), Dee Hinkle (Choneko), Marilyn R. Knopp (MariCho), Barbara Romanos (Nekolady) and more recently, Allen Scruggs and Douglas Myers (Nekomo) have all imported Bobtails to the breed’s definite health advantage through gene diversity.
Important early strides in the breed’s development were made by CFA Allbreed Judges Virginia Wolfe, along with her partner Florence Miller (Fongin); Lynn Beck (Arlynn); and Don Thompson (Jo-Don); as well as by geneticist Solveig Pfleuger. Virginia frequently took a Bobtail with her on judging assignments not only providing her with a traveling companion, but also giving her the opportunity to promote the breed she had come to love. Prior to a show she would ask the show manager to provide her with a cage near her ring for her Bobtail. She would then present it to the audience as her schedule allowed. Ms. Wolfe’s, as well as Don and Joanne Thompson’s, cats came from Ms. Freret, as did those of George Berkley, an early enthusiast from Miami. Jane Martinke’s illustrated article on the breed in the May 1970 issue of Cats magazine was widely influential. Ted and Creszentia Allen’s fine photographs of those early Bobtails, also seen in a later issue of Cats magazine as well as in Cat Fancy magazine, helped with the breed’s acceptance and popularization.
THE BOBTAIL IN FINE ART
The Japanese Bobtail has long been an integral part of Japanese culture and fine art. In the Setagaya suburb of Tokyo, the Gotokuji Temple, dedicated to the Maneki Neko, or beckoning cat, can be found. The Maneki Neko has long been considered a talisman of good fortune, particularly in business. Typically seen in store fronts, the figurine is found in many materials from papier mache to fine porcelain – as toys and banks as well as very sophisticated art objects. Most breeders collect them. Numerous silk scroll paintings, woodblock prints and netsuke (small decorative carved objects used as toggles to fasten a pouch or purse to the kimono sash) attest to the Bobtail breed’s longevity. Lynn Beck’s collection is particularly superb. The Gotokuji Temple was constructed in 1697. Maneki Nekos were particularly popular in the Edo period (1603-1867). Chi Kanoliu (1874), Toyokuni (1786-1864), not to mention the most famous Japanese artist of all, Hiroshige, all used the Bobtail in their work. Shosan and Hiromi, early in this century, produced exquisite woodblock prints that included Bobtails. Earlier examples undoubtedly exist but aren’t currently known.
The Bobtail’s appearance in fine art notwithstanding, the breed derives from street and farm cats, cats who worked to protect silk (worms), rice and other crops from vermin. Exactly when or where the mutation that created the bobbed tail occurred is probably lost forever. Mention should be made that bobbed-tailed cats are seen in most of the Orient, indicating that the event probably happened in pre-historic times. Bobtails were possibly brought to Japan from Korea in the Sixth Century during the reign of Emperor Idi-Jo (986-1011) to protect manuscripts from mice. The Bobtail exhibits a high level of intelligence. Their street smart personality comes through in today’s cats. Cleverness in escaping or getting food on the street is evident in the show cat in their being able to charm a judge into just the right ribbon colors! The breed that probably most closely resembles the Bobtail in personality must surely be the Abyssinian. Elizabeth Freret bred Abyssinians and noted the similarity as have many others in that breed.
When Elizabeth Freret, Lynn Beck, Virginia Wolfe and the original breeders in this country sought CFA acceptance, they wisely realized the necessity of distinguishing the tailess Manx from the Bobtail. Manx breeder Barbara St. Georges enjoys pointing that out frequently when finalling a Bobtail. Many street/farm cats in Japan were and are very large and cobby. Some have thick coats – especially in Japan’s northern climes. This type was omitted from American breeding stock. Today’s Bobtail female should weigh about six pounds, males about eight pounds. Such cats exhibit a more refined, racier appearance – so much so that many feel that the standard favors the female. Marilyn Knopp granded the first import, GC Upwind’s Yoko of MariCho. Allen Scruggs, Douglas Myers and Marilyn Knopp most recently granded their import, GC Kaminari Rindau of Nekomo, bred by Mariko Kaminari and imported to this country by Kenji and Yaeko Takano , who have lately expressed interest in becoming breeders. Yoko Imai is a Japanese breeder and judge who is a long time breed council member and has even judged the annual Japanese Bobtail Fanciers’ show in this country. One has heard for years that the Japanese themselves have not prized the Bobtail as we have – not unlike the way American breeders regarded the Maine Coon. Many were shown (some still are) as household pets there! Now, however, there are a growing number of Japanese cat fanciers focusing on their native breed; but then one also sees more and more interest in breeding and showing Maine Coons here!
THE BOBTAIL’S APPEARANCE
The Bobtail is a medium-sized cat with long, clean lines. The body is long, lean and strong – level from hip to shoulder with the hind legs much longer than the forelegs. The level back is achieved by the deep angulation of the back legs. That conformation clearly accounts for the unique gait exhibited by Bobtails. The ideal Bobtail is Japanese in “look” – that is, it has large oval, slanted eyes, high cheekbones and noticeable whisker break. Among the important things to note when learning correct Bobtail type is that the whisker break creates a pompom not unlike the one at the other end! The “pompom” at both ends creates a nice balance. The Bobtail’s head should form an equilateral triangle, not including the ears. More simply said, it is as wide as it is long. I have always found it interesting that two of the Japanese breeds of dog, the Akita and the Japanese Chin also “look” Japanese. The Akita’s earset – large, high on the head and pitched alertly forward is much that of the ears of the Bobtail. Both the Longhair and the Shorthair Bobtail are grouped in the Shorthair Division in CFA. The Shorthair version of the breed’s coat, unlike that of the Manx, is medium in length and single coated. It is a flat-lying, smooth and silky coat that requires minimal grooming. The Longhair division cats require more work in line with that given to all long-haired cats.
THE LONGHAIR BOBTAIL
For any number of years occasional long-haired Bobtails appeared in shorthair litters. Usually breeders “petted them out”; however, over a period of time, cognizant of the evidence in ancient Japanese art work that long-haired Bobtails had been around for a very long time, breeders began to work towards full Championship recognition. At the February 1991 CFA Board Meeting they were accepted as AOV status. They were widely shown from May 1, 1992 until May 1, 1993. Marilyn R. Knopp was the division’s true champion – she traveled far and wide by air and car showing GC Kurisumasu Sato Ume of MariCho and CH Nagake’s Okurimono of MariCho. The response was overwhelmingly positive among most exhibitors and judges. One CFA Judge even gave Sato a special award since he wasn’t eligible for points. In 1993 CFA accepted the Longhair division for Championship status to enter competition in May of that year. On June 19, 1993 GC, GP, NW MariCho’s Hoseki became CFA’s first grand champion. Later he made breed division history when he placed 2nd nationally in Premiership in 1996. The first grand premier was Marianne Clark’s GP, RW Kurisumasu Kindei. Also to Marianne’s credit must be counted the first Japanese Bobtail Longhair Distinguished Merit cat – GC, RW Kurisumasu Kohana, DM (AKA “Poppy”).
Just as many people worked diligently to get the Shorthair Bobtail recognized originally, many went that extra mile or more to get the Longhair recognized. Several of those people deserve special mention for having traveled to San Diego to present their cats at the CFA Board Meeting: Lynn Berge (Berjo), Richard and Charlene Brake (Nekosong), Marianne Clark (Kurisumasu), Gena Garton (Catastery), Dee Hinkle (Choneko), and, of course, Marilyn Knopp (MariCho). Others deserve key credit, though they weren’t able to attend: David Buckner (Nagake), Lisa Bussotti (Code Corte), and Twyla McCarty (Windcastle) among them. It is interesting that a number of breeders breed and show in both divisions, while others work exclusively in one
BOBTAIL COLORS, TAILS and TYPE
Bobtails appear in most traditional cat colors and patterns: solids and bi-colors; tabbies, vans and harlequins. The majority are bi-colors – vans (predominantly white cats with color found only on the head and tail with occasional spots on the legs and/or body) or harlequins, (again mostly white cats with large color splashes). The mi-ke (pronounced mee-kay) or calico was once the most prized color, but today all colors compete equally. Recently more tabbies (mackerel) and a few dilute colors have found their way to the show ring. Just a few years back solids were more frequently seen; one sees few lately.
The tail, the very thing that first identifies the breed, is as unique to the cat as its registration number. Though there are categories into which tails fall (shaving brush, corkscrew, a clown’s pompom, fan, hook, etc.), as long as the tail is clearly visible and less than 3″ long away from the body, no one tail type is preferred. It should be very gently handled as it is sensitive – some parts are usually fused. It’s delightful to see that most Bobtails will indeed wiggle (Dare I say wag?) their little bunny tails, a trick that always elicits a smile.
It is important to note that type is more important than tail! Currently there is ongoing discussion among breed council members to define Bobtail type that should prove beneficial to breeders and judges alike. The gene(s) that produces the distinctive tail is recessive, meaning that both parents must be Bobtails. Thankfully, no known anomalies accompany the tail producing gene(s) as is frequently the case in other structurally mutant breeds.
After having been accepted for registration in 1969, achieving Provisional status in 1971 and full Championship recognition in 1976, the breed in the U.S. has enjoyed increasing recognition on all levels, regionally and nationally. Starting with the first grand champion, GC Maryott’s Quan Yin of Amberleigh (granded in the 1976-1977 season), a mi-ke co-owned by Patte LeBlanc and Mary Olsen, to date virtually all colors have granded. According to the August 1997 CFA Almanac, the Japanese Bobtail is 22nd in number of cats competing in Championship for the previous show season. The breed has fluctuated in the past six years between a high of 17th and a low of 23rd. As the numbers of breeders working with the breed have increased, the numbers and quality have increased. Individual standard interpretation is inevitable, probably healthy – otherwise the parameters within which we could work would prove too restrictive.
The first CFA national award was garnered by CH, GP NW Kitai Mitu of Nekolady. A mi-ke, she placed as 6th Best Cat in Premiership in 1982. The first Japanese Bobtail to place in the then top 20 in Championship was GC, NW Nekomo Hirohito, DM, a black and white van male. He placed as 6th Best Cat in 1988. The first national Kitten win belongs to GC, NW Bassetti’s Pachinko, a mi-ke. She was 9th Best Kitten in 1988 and went on to become 15th Best Cat the following season, 1989.
Arguably the Distinguished Merit (DM) award is the most coveted from a breeder’s point of view. Three DM cats in particular come to mind that deserve special mention. The male that sired the most Bobtail grands by far was GC, RW Bassetti’s Saisho, DM, a red and white van.At the time of his recent death he had sired an impressive 30 grands! The distaff side is well represented by GC Nekomo Kaede, DM. She “threw,” to use the dog fancy term, no less than 16 grands, not only a record for her breed, but the all time record for a female of any breed in CFA! Sadly, she too recently passed away in a fire. A mi-ke, she was well known to consistently “throw” kittens better than she was herself. It is a well accepted, salient fact that the male has a greater opportunity to produce more kittens than a female, hence the large difference of numbers granded. CH, GP Catastery Hachimitsu of Wyndchymes, DM, was the breed’s first single litter DM. That distinction is indeed noteworthy, especially as their owners were new to the breed.
I cannot end this piece without mentioning a special cat who was recently lost with all of her beautiful kittens – GC, NW Choneko Yoyo of Nekomo. She was a black and white van, and to me, my partner Douglas Myers and many CFA judges, breeders and exhibitors, represented the best Bobtail we had ever seen. I cannot take credit for having bred her, nor even for having first shown her – Dee Hinkle richly deserves that honor – but I hope I can share with Douglas the joy of having conditioned and groomed her, shown her and, most of all, for having loved her with all my heart.
It has been over seven years since I first wrote about the Bobtail for the Almanac and, as they say, a lot of water has gone under the bridge: for example, the recognition of the Longhair Bobtail and the extraordinary achievement of several top cats, not to mention the addition of excellent new breeders. Clearly, the Bobtail is a privileged breed – one that is cherished – one that is here to stay! For a minority breed the Bobtail can and does hold its head high, as prideful of its place in CFA history as it is in the hearts of its breeders and owners.