Monday, May 23, 2011

Interesting Shorts: The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima

The cat is an infrequent but always welcome visitor to vampire lore. In 1871 Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford included a traditional tale that he entitled The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima in his volume Tales of Old Japan. This was, of course, a year before Carmilla in which the eponymous vampire could take on cat form.

I have seen it suggested that the original story dates to the Sengoku Period – approximately the 15th to the end of the 17th century – and I imagine that nowhere does the tale, in its traditional form, mention vampires. That is an Anglicisation but fits rather well to what actually occurs in story.

It tells the story of the Prince of Hizen, of the Nabéshima family, whose consort O Toyo is attacked by a large cat. The cat bites her neck and throttles her, then it scratches out a grave, buries the body and assumes her form.

From then on the cat, in O Toyo’s form, visits the prince “in order to drain out his life's blood. Day by day, as time went on, the Prince's strength dwindled away; the colour of his face was changed, and became pale and livid; and he was as a man suffering from a deadly sickness.”

In this we can see, firstly, blood drinking but more importantly a description of a wasting disease and we have explored several times on the blog the connection, traditionally, between vampirism and consumption.

The Prince also has vivid and terrible dreams, connecting the phenomena with nightmares. The Prince’s advisors start sitting with their lord to watch over him but each night they are overcome with a bewitching sleep.

Eventually the cat’s plans are thwarted by a lowly soldier called Itô Sôda, who watches over his lord and prevents himself from sleeping by stabbing himself in the leg with a dagger and, when the desire to sleep overcame the pain, twisting it in his flesh. He even puts oil paper under himself to prevent his blood staining his master’s mats! O Toyo enters the rooms, in human form, but does not feed whilst Itô Sôda is awake and eventually, after several nights, her secret is discovered.

The cat actually escapes at the end of the tale though later, we are told, the Prince sends a hunting party to track the creature down and destroy it but only after it caused much mischief amongst the general populace.

An ebook version of the 1910 edition of Tales of Old Japan can be downloaded free of charge from Project Gutenberg.

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