The bakeneko, the legend of the "monster cat" 化け猫
A centuries-old superstition still very present today
At the origin of a centuries-old superstition, the bakeneko or "monster-cat" is both feared and celebrated...Its long tail allows it to stand up, and it is even said to have the gift of raising the dead! Today, a festival is held every year in his honor in the small Tokyo district of Kagurazaka!
A not so docile cat
If the Maneki-neko is famous throughout the archipelago, its evil alter-ego is just as famous. His name? The bakeneko!
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Literally "cat-monster", the bakeneko is a yôkai (spirit of Japanese folklore) taking on the appearance of a long-tailed cat. This tail would allow it to walk on two legs, and some special abilities like speech, metamorphism, and even the resurrection of the dead!
On a slightly more horrifying note, a cat transformed into a bakeneko would even go so far as to kill its master to take his place and thus control the entire household!
But don't worry, not every cat is a bakeneko!
To become a bakeneko, a cat must meet certain criteria: be at least 13 years old, weigh more than 3.5 kg, and have an abnormally long tail. A characteristic that launched a fashion in the 17th century: the short-tailed cats!
A legend at the origin of several superstitions in Japan
During the Edo period (1603-1868) cats were used en masse to hunt mice that threatened silkworms in the textile industry, the legend of the bakeneko has its origins in the feline overpopulation that haunted the streets of the time.
As the Japanese saw cats multiply in number, the superstition of the evil long-tailed cat grew over the years. A superstition which had some repercussions on human-feline relations, since it was from this legend that two traditions still widespread today were born: cutting the tails of kittens so that they do not turn into a yôkai while growing up, and never letting a cat approach a dead person at the risk that the person will return to life!
Kagurazaka's Bakeneko Matsuri
Nowadays the bakeneko are considered as legends for most of the Japanese people, but some of them still fear or even worship them!
Organized every year since 2010 in the Tokyo district of Kagurazaka, the Bakeneko Matsuri is an ode to the monster-cat.
Parade in the effigy of the most famous of felines, dances in his honor, costumes, and snacks in his image, the Bakeneko Matsuri is certainly a festival not to be missed if you are a cat lover!
Organized every year at the end of the second week of October, the festival is today linked to another event that is also centered around the joys of disguise: Halloween!
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Very popular, the horror festival is indeed conducive to costumed parades. A tradition that the Bakeneko Matsuri also seems to like, since the central event of the festival takes the form of a giant parade at the beginning of the afternoon where the participants must wear their cat costumes. Registration is open from 10 am to 1:30 pm, and admission is free for children. Adults must pay 500 yen ($4.50/4€) to parade and must wear at least one accessory reminiscent of the famous feline.
The parade usually starts at 2 pm, followed around 4 pm by the Anya Odori, the "dance of the Nya".
Taking its name from the meowing of the cat ("Nya" in Japanese), the Anya Odori is performed by the locals of the district dressed as felines. It also welcomes many street musicians also dressed up for the occasion, and remains one of the most anticipated events of the festival!
Also note that as in any self-respecting matsuri, the Bakeneko Matsuri is full of food and drink stalls. But not only! It also has a make-up workshop to transform these dear darlings into felines, a rental stand for kimonos and obi with Neko print for 2,500 yen ($21.75/19.75€), and various stalls of goodies and snacks at the effigy of cats.
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And if you wear a bell (like those that cats wear on their collar), you will even be entitled to discounts in certain stores in the neighborhood! The life of a cat is paradise!
Additional information :
Address : Yaraicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 162-0805
Price: parade at 500 yen ($4.50/4€) for adults, free for children
Opening hours: the second weekend of October, from 10 am to 5 pm
Directions : Opposite Kagurazaka Station (Tozai Line)