The Demon Cat (or Bake-neko) is a supernatural creature from Japanese folklore. It is an ordinary cat that has transformed into a monstrous demon. According to legend, it can shapeshift and take the form of a human being. The name Bake-neko means “Monster Cat” or “Transforming Cat”.
Long ago, in Japan, there were many superstitions surrounding cats. Many people believed that a cat could turn into a hideous demon cat, called a Bake-neko, if it lived in the same place for 13 years and if it reached over 8 pounds in weight.
They say the Demon Cat is able to walk on two legs like a human. It can also shapeshift and take on human form, sometimes devouring people and stealing their identities. The bake-neko can also reaching in through doorways with its enormous arms, looking for human prey just like a household cat pawing around in a mousehole.
A famous bake-neko story involves a man named Takasu Genbei, whose pet cat of many years went missing just as his mother’s personality changed completely. The woman shunned company and took her meals alone in her room, and when the curious family peered in on her, they saw not a human being but a feline monster in the old lady’s clothes, chewing on animal carcasses. Takasu, with much reluctance, slew what looked like his mother, and after a day had passed the body turned back into the same pet cat that had gone missing. After that Takasu miserably tore up the tatami mats and the floorboards in his mother’s room, only to find the old woman’s bones hidden there, gnawed clean of flesh.
Another famous story, called “The Devil Cat of Nabeshima”, tells of a prince who fell victim to a Bake-neko. One night, the prince was walking in the palace gardens with his favorite geisha, a girl named O Toyo. Little did they know that they were being watched by a shadowy creature who was lurking in the shadows.
After the price retired to his bedroom, the Bake-neko slipped undetected into the geisha’s apartment and waited under the bed until the girl was asleep. At midnight, the Demon Cat pounced on the sleeping woman and strangled her to death. Then, it dragged her body outside, dug a hole under the flower beds and buried her corpse in a shallow grave.
After concealing its horrible deed, the demon cat shape-shifted and took on the form of the dead geisha, fooling everyone. Each night, the Bake-neko, disguised as the geisha, slipped into the prince’s room to drink his blood.
Soon, the prince was complaining of horrible dreams. He grew very weak and pale. The doctors were baffled by his mysterious illness and the prince ordered his guards to stand in his room and keep watch over him while he slept. However, as midnight approached, the guards found themselves feeling incredibly drowsy and, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t stay awake.
Eventually, a young soldier who had served under the king came to the castle. When he heard about the strange events, he volunteered to stay up and keep watch over the prince. As midnight approached, the soldier saw the other guards nodding off, one by one. The soldier started to feel drowsy too. Desperate to stop himself falling asleep, he took out his dagger and stabbed himself in the thigh, keeping himself awake. Whenever he felt like he was going to nod off, he would twist the knife in his wound to increase the pain and stay awake.
At midnight, the soldier watched as the sliding doors of the prince’s room parted. The beautiful geisha crept silently into the room and made her way over to the prince’s bedside. The soldier rose, his knife in hand and when the geisha turned and saw him, she left as quickly and quietly as she had come.
For the next three nights, the dutiful soldier stood guard over the sleeping prince, stabbing himself every night to stay awake. The prince’s strength began to return. When the soldier tried to tell him about the geisha, however, the prince refused to listen. He would not allow anyone to question the loyalty of his favorite girlfriend. Undeterred, the soldier made plans to get rid of the geisha himself.
That very night, the soldier knocked on the geisha’s door. He told her he had a message for her from the prince. When she opened the door, the soldier suddenly drew his dagger and tried to stab her, but she easily side-stepped his attack. The geisha transformed back into a Bake-neko and sprang at the soldier in a fury, hissing and spitting as she tried to defend herself.
The two fought wildly, but when the soldier began to get the upper hand, the Bake-neko fled, springing through the window, onto the roof and down into the garden. It managed to escape into the mountains.
The next day, the soldier told the prince what had happened. The palace gardener was digging in the flowerbeds and uncovered the body of the real geisha. Grief stricken, the prince ordered his guards to hunt down the Demon Cat. It was finally killed by the young soldier who had discovered its evil secret.