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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

book review: kaibyo, the supernatural cats of japan by zack davisson

image courtesy of publishers
 A young samurai and his mistress take a leisurely stroll outdoors in a print dated 1777 by Isoda Koryusai.  The man turns to his love with an eager face. He either hasn't noticed, or doesn't care, that his girlfriend walking so gracefully in her chic kimono is . . . a cat. Specifically, she's a bakeneko yujo, a shapeshifting cat prostitute.  She's only one of the many supernatural felines we meet in Kaibyƍ: The Supernatural Cats of Japan by Zack Davisson ($18.95, Chin Music Press and Mercuria Press, copublishers).
This gorgeous little book is full of creatures which will give you new respect for your own household demons.  After all, if they've been around long enough, they might grow a second tail and start walking upright, becoming fierce and frightening magical spirits known as nekomata.  Even scarier are the corpse-eating cat monsters known as kasha, and the Cat Witch of Okabe who lured travelers to their deaths.  Other, more benign creatures are found here too, such as the gotoku neko, who wears a trivet for a hat and likes to keep the fire stoked, and our friend the maneki neko, the inviting cat who's somehow gained a reputation for bringing luck.  Not least is the giant prehistoric Iriomote Great Mountain Cat, rumored but never proven to be stalking the highlands of a remote Japanese island, as illustrated below by Kyosai c. 1860-70:

image believed PD; any omission unintentional
Seiseiyousaiga, Kawanabe  Kyosai
This illustration, I might add, is uncannily like what faces me every morning that I have overslept the cat food alarm.
Davisson's scholarship is detailed and engagingly readable, and includes period stories and folklore as well as a wealth of full-color illustrations.  While it makes a wonderful gift, it's also a solid and useful resource for anyone who takes their cat folklore seriously.

Curator's note: According to the publishers, this is the first of an upcoming series on Japan's supernatural animals.

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