Table of Contents
- Poor farmer: Father of the main character
- Farmer’s wife: Mother of the main character
- The boy: The protagonist of the story who is clever and intelligent
- A priest: The boy’s mentor
- Goblin Rat: A monster
“The Boy Who Drew Cats” is a Japanese fairy tale translated by Lafcadio Hearn, published in 1898, as number 23 of Hasegawa Takejiro’s Japanese Fairy Tale Series. The original title in Hearn’s manuscript was “The Artist of Cats”. Hasegawa Takejiro was an innovative Japanese publisher specializing in books in European languages on Japanese subjects.
He employed leading foreign residents as translators and noted Japanese artists as illustrators, and became a leading purveyor of export books and publications for foreign residents in Japan. The story begins in a small village in Japan where a poor farmer and his wife live with their large family. The protagonist, who is a young boy that cannot stop drawing cats, experiences a life-changing challenge.
He can’t live on the farm and work the farm with his family nor is he successful in his studies for the priesthood. What was once his greatest flaw becomes his greatest advantage—saving his life, the temple, and the village.
The parents send the boy to become a priest
A poor farmer and his wife live with their large family in a small village in Japan. They find it difficult to feed all their children and they have to help with chores around the farm. However, their youngest child is not eligible for voluntary work because he is too smart. His parents think he will create a better priest than a farmer, so they take him to the old priest in the village temple and ask the priest to take the boy as his ally. The priest is very impressed with the boy’s intelligence and agrees to teach the boy to be a priest.
The boy had an unusual obsession with drawing cats
Although the boy excelled as a student, he had the irresistible habit of drawing cats everywhere, including the margins of books, the temple’s pillars, and all its screens. Finally, one day, the priest advises the boy to be an artist because he’s not a good priest, but he gives the boy some advice, that is to “Avoid big places at night; keep it small!” The boy leaves the temple without really understanding this advice.
He is afraid to go home because he has disappointed his parents, so he travels to the next village because he remembers that there is a big temple there, where he can continue his education. He had never heard that the temple was closed because a “goblin” had intimidated all the priests and swallowed up the many warriors who had tried to kill it.
The boy saves the village from the Goblin rat
When the boy arrives, he notes that everything is covered in dust and no one is there. This means that the priests want to help clean up. He sees some big white screens and decides to draw cats while he waits. Later, he feels sleepy; However, he realizes that he is in a big place and remembers the priest’s advice, so he finds a small cabinet where he can sleep. In the middle of the night, he hears horrible sounds of fighting and screaming, and he stays in his cabinet until the dawn light shines through the cracks.
As he rises, he sees a large “goblin style” dead on the “floor” larger than a cow. He notices that the cats he drew on the wall have blood-red in their mouths. He now understands the teachings of the priest and soon becomes a famous artist.
In this fable, the fate of the boy illustrates the mysterious power of nature to save or destroy human life. This young artist has devoted himself to cats, and in drawing them, he wholeheartedly worships the genius, or spirit, of cats within himself.