The shapeshifting cat of Japanese legend is called the bakeneko (化け猫) – pronounced “bah-kay-nay-ko”.The interesting thing about this shapeshifter is that their original form is that of a cat, and their transformed form is that of a human!
Legends vary surrounding how and when the bakeneko is able to shapeshift. The most commonly accepted theory is that, like the kitsune, as they advance in age, they will gain the ability to transform. Other legends say that the shapeshifting abilities can start when the cat reaches 8 pounds, or if the cat has been kept for a certain number of years. There are also certain bakeneko that cannot – or donot – shapeshift at all – these creatures however are still able to talk while in their original cat form.
What are the Bakeneko like?
- in cat form, they are able to walk on their hind legs
- in cat form, some are able to talk
- cause mischief
- known to hold grudges
- some have been known to impersonate their owner
- faithful to those who have sacrificed for them
- some myths say that their shadow can appear to be that of a cat when in human form
- can reanimate a corpse by jumping over it
- can create fireballs
- some can enter people’s dreams
- can become quite large in size
It’s also interesting to note that although the bakeneko have a reputation for being relatively unfriendly towards humans, some have actually been known to be quite faithful to some humans – particularly those who have made a personal sacrifice to keep them safe (for example, a very poor person with little food, feeding them).
There is also a creature called the Nekomata.
The nekomata is a bakeneko that has aged enough that it’s tail has split, or “forked” in two. It has many of the other same characteristics of the bakeneko, however is said to be unfriendly towards humans, in many cases haunting their owners more so than a bakeneko would do.