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The Obakeneko of the Geishu Clan

The First Tenet <-- --> Green Persimmon

General Info
 

First Published: April, 1997 by Dark Horse Comics

Comics Which Contain This Story
 

USAGI YOJIMBO Volume 3, Number 12

USAGI YOJIMBO Book Eleven: Seasons
(Pages 143-166)

Characters in This Story
 
Story Notes
 

Obakéneko

There is a Japanese saying: Feed a dog for three days, and he will remember your kindness for three years. Feed a cat for three years, and she will forget your kindness in three days.

The first cats were introduced to Japan by Fujiwara no Sanesuke, a nobleman at the court of Emperor Ichijo (987-1011). They were imported from China and were called "hand-fed tigers." They were very popular pets but were soon looked upon with suspicion and even fear. Besides being ungrateful, cats are destructive by nature. They tear straw tatami mats, make holes in paper shoji doors, and sharpen their claws on wooden pillars. They are also very fond of the oil in lamps and will often lap them dry.

The Japanese looked upon cats as being under a curse. Only the cat and the serpent did not weep at the death of Buddha. In fact, the cat killed the rat that was sent to get medicine.

Like foxes and badgers, cats are able to bewitch human beings. Cats are also able to control the dead, even making them dance.

Cats have a natural tendency to become nekomata, or "goblin cats." This can only be controlled by cutting off their tails, which was a common practice performed on kittens.

When a nekomata ages, it becomes an obakéneko. Obakéneko (sometimes called kaibyo) literally translates as "supernatural cat," though it is also called "ghost cat" or "vampire cat." There is no single Western equivalent to this creature. Not only old cats but also those killed or wronged by a person can become obakéneko to take revenge.

There is a well-known story of the obakéneko of Saga Castle. During the Edo Period, Lord Nabeshima, an avid player of the board game go, challenged a blind champion, Matahichiryo Ryuzoji, to a game. When it appeared that he was going to lose, Lord Nabeshima lost his temper and killed Matahichiryo. The blind man left an aged mother who, learning of her son's death, killed herself in grief. He also left a pet cat, Tama, who lapped up the mother's blood and became an obakéneko and, to this day, is responsible for strange occurrences in the castle.

Not all cats are regarded with malice, however.

Sailors prized cats, especially the three-colored mikeneko. People who drown at sea never find rest but lurk in the waves and shout and wail as ships go by and extend their arms in the whitecaps in an effort to grab a victim. Cats, with their control over the dead, can keep those spirits away.

The manekineko, or "beckoning cat," is found in a spot of honor in many shops, because the cat with its raised paw invites customers in.

The Sleeping Cat carving of Nikko Shrine, the burial place of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, is said to keep the area free of mice and will wink its eye with approaching rain.

Much of the research for this story came from Yokai Yurei Daihyaku (Many Unnatural and Ghost Stories). Thanks to Bill Mimbu for sending me this book and to my parents, Akio and Teruko Sakai, for translating the sections on obakéneko and kaibyo. Also used were: Myths and Legends of Japan by F. Hadland Davis; Japanese Animal Art: Antique and Contemporary by Lea Baten; The Mystery of Things: Evocations of the Japanese Supernatural by Akeji Sumiyoshi and Patrik Le Nestour; Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan by Lafcadio Hearn; and Obaké: Ghost Stories in Hawai'i by Glen Grant.

Synopsis
 

As Usagi walks past the ruins of a mansion in the gloaming, his skin crawls as he recollects where he is, and the events of a time just after the Dragon Bellow Conspiracy when he, Gen and Tomoe took up a noblewoman's offer of shelter for the night.

The three are attacked separately. Gen is poisoned, Tomoe has gone for help, and Usagi lies unconscious, having killed an obakeneko. As the dawn reveals a ruin, Tomoe arrives with help, Gen and Usagi have both recovered, and one of Lord Noriyuki's samurai tells of a vengeful spirit said to haunt the mansion, the cat of a violent-tempered lord's wife, who avenged her mistress' death and now lures unsuspecting travelers to their doom....

 
 
The First Tenet <-- --> Green Persimmon


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Usagi Yojimbo, including all prominent characters featured in the stories and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Stan Sakai and Usagi Studios. Usagi Yojimbo is a registered trademark of Stan Sakai. Names, characters, places, and incidents featured in this publication either are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events, institutions, or locales, without satiric content, is coincidental.