Friday, March 16, 2012

Vampire Cats in Japanese Fairy Tales

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“One day Otoyo (a beautiful princess) sat alone in her room working on her embroidery with a big cat which had been in the palace for some time lounging beside her. As Otoyo looked up briefly from her work she saw the cat suddenly look at her with such hateful and evil eyes that she let out an involuntary cry of fear. But no sooner had the cry escaped her lips then the cat leapt upon the beautiful Otoyo’s throat and bit deep into veins sucking the blood from her.”
The Vampire Cat – Japanese Fairy Tale

Bakeneko (magical cats which can take on human form) are some of the most feared vampires in Japanese folklore because they are able to observe humans, calculating and planning their attack. In one fairy tale a bakeneko watches a boy as he prepares to go hunting, counting the number of arrows the boy takes so it can wait until he’s used them all before attacking.
Beyond simply being cunning the bakeneko was also powerful, in the story of ‘The Vampire Cat,’ the bakeneko drains a concubine in a prince’s court then takes her form so that she can drain the prince of his blood. She then puts all the guards to sleep before making her move. In this form she is able to sleep with the prince, and she drains a little of his blood each night, making him weaker and weaker.
Seeing that the prince is dying of a magical illness his soldiers try to guard him constantly, but the cat in the form of Otoyo puts them all to sleep with her powers. What we see is that the cat in Japanese mythology can be much like the vampires of Slavic mythology, able to kill quickly if they wish to, but they choose to slowly drain those they love, causing them to whither away.
Cats do often fall in love with people, in one tale a woman falls in love with a man believed to be a bakeneko. Eventually the word spreads that she is sleeping with a cat so she tries to break of her relationship with him. She is found later with her throat torn out.
Unlike the vampire, however, the Bakeneko is always watching humans, in the form of a cat or by taking the form of a person’s friend or lover. The problem is that a person can’t simply get rid of the cat which is watching them intently, nor can they avoid owning a cat at times. In the fairy tale “The Guardian Cat” a man sees a cat following his daughter everywhere and so thinks to kill it. The cat however turns out to be protecting her from another evil. In addition to being the vampires of Japanese mythology cats can also the guardians of humans, sent by the kami (gods) to protect humans from other evil man eating monsters. Thus a people often needed cats in mythology to survive, so the cats would watch them, live with them but they could never be certain if the cat watching them closely was a protector or a vampire.