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‘Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan’: Traditionally spooky felines

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Cats. Modern Japan loves them in all shapes and sizes. But they weren’t always so cuddly.

Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan, by Zack Davisson.
120 pages
CHIN MUSIC PRESS, Nonfiction.

From translator and folklore scholar Zack Davisson, “Kaibyo: The Supernatural Cats of Japan” is a spooky read perfect for curling up with alongside a cat of your own. In this delightful primer, Davisson introduces an array of feline beasties responsible for terrorizing (and in some cases, seducing) people throughout the centuries.

Translated as “strange cats,” many of the kaibyō featured weren’t born supernatural, but began as regular cats who eventually transformed after living extremely long lives. The corpse-eating kasha wasn’t even a cat; as its kanji reading suggests, it was initially a flaming cart.

The shapeshifting bakeneko and omnipresent maneki neko may be pop culture staples, but “Kaibyo” gives us impactful glimpses into how deeply rooted in legend and the allure of supernatural these figures are. Like the perpetual reincarnations of Grimm’s fairy tales, kaibyō stories continue to endure.

It’s undoubtedly scholarly, but Davisson’s writing is refreshingly genuine, surprisingly comparable to an engaging coffee shop conversation.

The book design is just as lovely. Carla Girard, who also worked with Davisson on “Yurei: The Japanese Ghost,” has crafted a handsome travel-size bestiary fit for the monsters that roam its pages.

“Kaibyo” ends far too quickly, but thankfully there’s more to come. This is just the beginning of Davisson’s new series about Japan’s otherworldly animals.