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Kasha the Corpse-Eating Cat and Friends: Meet the Creepy Kitties of Japan

Brandy may not want to eat me (just yet), but I don't need her summoning any of her spooky friends this Halloween either.

Louise Hung  |  Oct 23rd 2014


What cat parents haven’t wondered if their cats will eat them one day? Sure, it’s the stuff of urban legends, but I’ve seen Batman Returns; I know what can happen. Whether I’ve lived alone or with family, roommates, or partners, I’ve often had visions of my sweet little House Carnivore, Brandy, discovering my body long before the authorities and tying on her bib. But then I’ll become Catwoman, so — fair trade?

I admit I am incredibly accident-prone. I’ve fallen, bumped my head, and come to in a daze with my cat sitting before me, head cocked, perhaps curious if I am playing a game or if I’m making some sort of offering.

When my back spasmed and I got stuck on my bathmat for an hour, my cat went through various stages of alarm, concern, then yowls of what I hope were calling for help, but might have been hunger. When I practice yoga at home and I end in savasana or “corpse pose,” Brandy inevitably gets in on the action. Sometimes she licks me, an act I tell my husband is “sealing my practice with love” but what he calls “an appetizer.” As a pescetarian, my body holds all of the yummy goodness a cat could want.

Having recently moved to Japan, I’m surrounded by a culture that not only adores cats but also has a healthy respect for their powers, both good and eeeev-i-el (say “evil” like an old timey movie villain, twiddle your mustache for bonus points). Demon cats, ghost cats, revenge cats — Japan has a history of some pretty scary kitties.

So as I gear up for my first Halloween as an expat, I’ve been indulging in some “tails” of terror, of the feline variety.

Here are a few of my favorites. They definitely make me take a long, hard look at the neighborhood cat who just refuses to like me. What are your secrets little neko?

Kasha the Corpse-Eating Cat

Kasha can be translated to “fire chariot.” The story of Kasha did not start necessarily with a cat, but with a flaming cart that descended from the sky when a corpse was carted through the streets. Over time, and with the help of artist Toriyama Sekien, who portrayed the Kasha as a flaming demon cat, cats became the primary association with the Kasha.

According to legend, if the friends and family of the deceased are not careful, a Kasha demon cat will appear in a flash of thunder and wind, and snatch away the body for a snack.

Variations on the legend also warn that old cats can become Kasha, and if such cats are left alone with a corpse they will drag them off and devour them. The mere presence of a corpse can potentially turn a cat into a Kasha, too, which may just be an explanation for instances of postmortem predation. (THOUGHT: After all this talk of corpse-eating cats, I think I would kind of rather my cat eat me than starve. But I’m also the gal who wants her corpse left out in the middle of the woods to be eaten by animals, so …)

It is possible to ward off the approach of a Kasha by performing the funeral twice, placing a rock on the corpse inside the coffin the first time, making the corpse too heavy for little flaming kitty arms to carry off. Also be sure to place a razor on top of the coffin. Bamboo cages were also erected around the deceased in some instances.

Nekomata the Split-Tailed Cat

The Nekomata, a “forked” or split-tailed cat, is a particularly sinister member of Japanese cat folklore.

Originating as enormous beasts that roamed the deepest parts of forests, killing people who dared set foot in their domain, the Nekomata slowly became associated with elderly house cats. Again with the old cats getting fed up and eating you. Is it sick that it kind of makes me love them more?

Apparently if your cat lives to a ripe old age, an unnaturally ripe old age, they will become a Nekomata and run into the forest. If you’re lucky. If you’re not, your newly born Nekomata might stay in your home, wreak havoc, and eventually — you guessed it — drag you off and devour you.

In some cases if a cat is abused in life, it will become a Nekomata and take its revenge. I’m not going to lie, I’m sort of on their side.

A famous story of a Nekomata involves a samurai with a demon or poltergeist in his home. The entity cannot be exorcised, no matter what the priests do. It is only when the samurai’s house cat is killed that the manifestations end. The samurai discovers that his elderly house cat has two tails and thus was an evil Nekomata.

Nekomata are said to be malevolent creatures who have the ability to control humans with the power of their minds. Think of them like crafty little “puppet-masters” who might walk and talk like people.

Hmmm. Cats who enslave humans to do their bidding? Excuse me while I go count Brandy’s tail(s).

Mansion of the Ghost Cat, or Black Cat Mansion

All right, it’s not a ancient Japanese legend, but if you’re a fan of horror movies, you know the Japanese are masters of the genre.

Black Cat Mansion may have come out in 1958, but in terms of eerie imagery and storytelling, I’d put it up against all of the “torture porn” and gore fest horror films that have come out in the last 20 or so years. Just check out the trailer.

Directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, one of the fathers of modern Japanese horror movies, the story involves a bakeneko or shape-shifting ghost cat that is charged with seeking revenge on the family that wronged her’s. The whole family — all the way down the line. The film moves between present day and hundreds of years ago, explaining the the family’s curse.

The bakeneko manifests in different forms, most notably an old lady who haunts the mansion. A physician and his sick wife go to live in the mansion, in the hopes that she will recover, but instead she is assaulted by the vengeful ghost lady-cat. Guess who’s part of the family?

If you can find this film, it’s an atmospheric and unusual addition to a horror movie marathon.

I think I might have hit the jackpot in Japan: cats, horror, and horror cats. If nothing else, all these stories reinforce the fact that I should always RESPECT THE KITTY. Brandy may not want to eat me (just yet), but I don’t need her summoning any of her friends this Halloween either.

Do you have any favorite scary cat stories? Know any good cat legends from around the world? Tell us!

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About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Yokohama, Japan, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.