Domestic cats were pets of the nobles in the 3rd century AD

 

From the National Museum of National History’s exhibition of the earliest domestic cat bones.

The earliest domestic cats (bones) in Japan will be displayed. The roots of domestic cats were explored.

A study of the ecosystem at the time when the Japanese archipelago was formed after the last glacial period showed that there were no animals of the cat family other than wildcats in Japan. If so, when and from where did Japanese cats come? Surprisingly, the question has not been solved yet.

The exhibition introduced the bones (partial) of adult and young cats of the 3rd century BC discovered in the Karakami Site in Iki with a panel. Traces of domestic cats have been discovered also in Korea of the same period

It is thought that, since in those times, only noble people could raise foreign cats, the cats are are assumed to be the “domestic cats of noble people.”

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NAORA, Nobou, On the Japanese domestic cat. Journal of the Mammlogical Society of Japan Vol 1 (1952-1959) No 5 P 75-79  http://doi.org/10.11238/jmammsocjapan1952.1.75

The Japanese domestic cat was previously considered to have been imported to Japan via Korea around the 10th century AD. But a corpse judged to be Asian wild cat (Felis catus) was found at Ishiyama shell-mound of Otsu city, Shiga Prefecture and Hinata cave of Takahata-machi, Higashioitama-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, belonged to the early period of Jomon culture.

A second corpse of cat was also found at ruins of the later period of Jomon culture, period of Yayoi-styled culture and period of Haji culture, from which researchers know that the wild cats had lived in Japan since 5000 years B.C. and that these wild cats already were domesticated by the period of Haji culture.
Nowadays there are two kinds of long and short tailed among Japanese cats. Among them, the long-tailed cats shows strong primitive characteristics, hence Naora concludes in the article that the long-tailed cat is probably the proper Japanese cat. Such a cat’s skeleton also resembles that of Asian wild cats osteologically.

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From an article by Nipponia:
“It is said that the domestic cat first came to Japan in 538 (or 552) A.D. It is generally thought that cats were introduced at the same time as Buddhism, to protect sacred texts from the damage mice can cause. Genetic research indicates that the domestic cat probably came to Japan from India, via China. The first definite Japanese record of a domestic cat is found in a diary kept by the Emperor Uda (867-931). Its color was black, and from the diary it is clear that it was brought from China in 884.
The first recorded name of a cat in Japan is Myobu no Otodo, which means Chief Lady-in-Waiting of the Inner Palace. This aristocratic sounding name was given her by Emperor Ichijo (980-1011). The cat had a special rank at the court, and ladies-in-waiting were placed in charge of looking after her. Ancient records from those days tell of cats at the Imperial Palace having a red collar with a white tag, and fooling around with strings.
The oldest Japanese picture of a cat was drawn by Toba no Sojo (1053-1140). It is part of a narrative picture scroll called Chojugiga, and shows three striped cats with long tails, playing with other animals such as frogs, foxes and rabbits. From this it seems cats had become common in Japan by that time.”

Further reading:

Feline shadows in the Rising Sun: cultural values of cat in pre-modern Japan by Diego Cucinelli (Ming Qing Studies, 2013)

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