Bakeneko (Nekomata)

From Toriyama Sekien's Gazu Hyakki Yako (Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons)
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Bakeneko (ghost cats or shape-shifter cats) were thought to be able to walk on their hind legs and shape shift. A cat with two tails had particularly powerful powers. This form of yokai develops in the 17th century when large numbers of feral cats were roaming Edo (Tokyo).

Wikipedia: Bakeneko

See below for a series of images from Act 1, Scene 19 of the Kabuki play "Hitori Tabi Gojûsan Tsugi" (Traveling Alone to the Fifty-Three Stations), nicknamed "Okazaki no Neko" (The Demon Cat of Okazaki), by Tsuruya Nanboku IV . It premiered in 1827. It takes place at an abandoned temple in the town of Okazaki, where legend has it the houses along the road are all haunted by cat-spirits. The play is nicknamed "Okazaki no Neko" because the highlight of the play takes place in Act 1, Scene 19: Okazaki Muryôji (At the Muryôji Temple in Okazaki).

In this scene, four travelers have gone to an abandoned temple and met the old woman who lives there, Osan. During the evening two cats come out and dance on their hind legs, but Osan assures everyone that it's perfectly natural, then invites her guests to spend the night.

Later, Osan comes out and begins to lap up the fish oil being used in the lamp. Her shadow appears on the wall as that of a giant evil cat-spirit. One of the travelers comes out and sees the shadow, then screams in horror. The cat-spirit kills her (the traveler), then drags her body away into another room. Then Osan comes out with blood on her face, which she washes off as if she were a cat.

Another female traveler comes out with her baby, who has been crying, to apologize for the noise. She iis beginning to have her doubts about Osan but pretends all is well. Suddenly a giant paw grabs the baby and drags it off, then the traveler herself i is struck by the giant cat's paw. She screams as she falls, and one of the men travelers runs out to see what's going on.

She manages to tell the man that Osan is a giant evil cat-spirit, then dies. A paw reaches out and drags her behind a curtain, where the man finds the cat-spirit holding the woman's head in one paw. They engage in a "ferocious merciless fight" until finally the power of the man's enchanted sword conquers the cat-spirit, which spits out flames and flies away into the air.

(Synopsis based on Lorri Robinson, click here)

For a more detailed plot synopsis see Kabuki 21's synopsis of the entire play (scroll down to Act 1, Scene 19)

Below is a series of woodblock prints of the "Okazaki Muryoji" scene