The Japanese Bobtail is a breed of cat with an unusual 'bobbed' tail more closely resembling the tail of a rabbit than that of an ordinary feline. The short tail is a cat body type genetic mutation caused by the expression of a recessive gene. Thus, so long as both parents are bobtails, all kittens born to a litter will have bobtails as well. Unlike the Manx and other cat breeds, where genetic disorders are common to tailless or stumpy-tails, no such problem exists with the Japanese Bobtail.
The Japanese Bobtail is a small domestic cat native to Japan and Southeast Asia, though it is now found throughout the world. The breed has been known in Japan for centuries, and there are many stories, as well as pieces of ancient art, featuring it.
Japanese bobtails may have almost any color, but "Mi-ke" (三毛, mike?, lit. "three fur", composed of white, black and brown coloring) or bi-colors are especially favored by the Japanese. Much like any other breed, the colors may be arranged in any number of patterns, with van and calico being common among purebred cats, though other colorations are also accepted.
The earliest written evidence of cats in Japan indicates that they arrived from China or Korea at least 1,000 years ago. In 1602, Japanese authorities decreed that all cats should be set free to help deal with rodents threatening the silk-worms. Buying or selling cats was illegal, and from then on, bobtailed cats lived on farms and in the streets. Japanese Bobtails thus became the "street cats" of Japan.
The Japanese Bobtail is mentioned in Kaempfer's Japan. First published in London in 1701/02, it is the first book written by a Westerner about the flora, fauna, and landscape of Japan. Engelbert Kaempfer, a German doctor, wrote: "there is only one breed of cat that is kept. It has large patches of yellow, black and white fur; its short tail looks like it has been bent and broken. It has no mind to hunt for rats and mice but just wants to be carried and stroked by women."
The maneki-neko ("beckoning cat"), a Japanese Bobtail seated with one paw raised, is considered a good-luck charm. A maneki-neko statue is often found in the front of stores or homes. In 1968 the late Elizabeth Freret imported the first three Japanese Bobtails to the United States from Japan. Japanese Bobtails were accepted for Championship status in CFA (Cat Fanciers Association) in 1976.
There is a legend in Japan about why the Japanese Bobtail lost its tail. It states that a cat was warming itself too close to a fire, and set its tail on fire. It then ran through the town, burning many buildings to the ground. As punishment, the Emperor decreed that all cats should have their tails cut off.
Bobtails could have also surged after the legend of the bakeneko, or nekomata, a cat that when its tail grew too much, became a double-tail, and the cat would get powers like talking, walking on its back legs, and shape shifting. The nekomata could cause massive disturbances and even resurrect dead people. Japanese people may have started cutting their cat's tails to avoid them becoming a bakeneko.
Japanese Bobtails usually have litters of three to four kittens with newborns that are unusually large compared to other breeds. They are active earlier, and walk earlier. Affectionate and generally sweet-tempered, they enjoy supervising household chores and baby-sitting. They are active, intelligent, talkative cats with a well-defined sense of family life. Their soft voices are capable of nearly a whole scale of tones; some people say they sing. Since they adore human companionship they almost always speak when spoken to, and sometimes carry on "conversations" with their owners.   Because of their human-oriented personality they are easy to teach tricks and enjoy learning things like walking on a harness and lead, and playing fetch.
A similar breed of cat is in development in the United States as breeders attempt to perfect the "American Bobtail Cat" that would have a tail half the length of other breeds, though there has not been definitive progress in getting a new breed recognized yet.
While rare, Japanese Bobtails, especially predominantly white specimens, are more likely than other breeds to express heterochromia, or differing iris colors. One eye will be blue while the other is yellow (though in Japan, blue is referred to as silver while yellow is referred to as gold). This trait is popular and kittens displaying this "odd-eye" feature are usually more expensive.