Image source: SaruDama

This tale from Japan has really caught my imagination. A prince had in his household a beautiful woman, O Toyo, who was his favorite. After spending the day in the garden, the couple was unknowingly followed into the house by a large cat, a very scary cat. That night, O Toyo was wakened by the cat who grabbed the woman’s next in its teeth and killed her. It then buried the body in a grave it had scratched out in the garden. Finally, the cat transformsitself, taking the form of O Toyo.

The prince is of course clueless that his beautiful mistress is actually draining his blood every night. As he gets weaker and weaker, his counselors set a watch around his bedside each night to see who is harming the prince, but each night all the watchers succumb to sleep. Finally a wise old priest finds a dedicated, loyal soldier, Itô Sôda. The soldier spends the night with the watchers and is the only one to stay awake, managing to do so by stabbing himself in the thigh. He sees O Toyo enter, but she can’t do anything to the prince as she knows he is watching. This happens several times and as the prince gets better the cat-woman stops visiting at night, having given up for the time being.

Sôda realizes that it must have been O Toyo, that she actually a goblin of some sort. He vows to kill her and stations eight men outside her room when he enters it, his dagger ready to strike. The cat-woman realizes she is outmatched.

And from a beautiful woman became suddenly transformed into a cat, which, springing up the sides of the room, jumped on to the roof. Isahaya Buzen and his eight men who were watching outside shot at the cat, but missed it, and the beast made good its escape.

Eventually, though, the prince organizes a hunt and the cat is killed.

Awesome story, isn’t it? I can just picture the huge, man-killing cat. And then the beautiful woman moving with cat-like grace. It could quite easily be one of the current wave of shape-shifter stories, instead of Tales of Old Japan by A. B. Freeman-Mitford, published in 1871. You can read it on-line in several places including at SurLaLune Fairy Tales.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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