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The Boy Who Drew Cats
A Tale of Japan

Told by Aaron Shepard

Printed in Australia’s School Magazine, Sept. 1998


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Copyright © 1997 by Aaron Shepard. May not be published or posted without permission.

PREVIEW: A boy gets in trouble when he can’t stop drawing cats.

GENRE: Fairy tales
CULTURE: Japanese
THEME: Individuality; value of arts
 
AGES: 4–10
LENGTH: 1000 words

Once there was a boy who loved to draw. His name was Joji.

Joji grew up on a farm with lots of brothers and sisters. The others were a big help to their father and mother. But not Joji!

He did nothing for hours but draw in the dirt with a stick. And what Joji drew was just one thing.

Cats.

Cats, cats, and more cats. Small cats, big cats, thin cats, fat cats. Cats, cats, cats, cats, cats.

“Joji,” his father told him, “you must stop drawing all those cats! How will you ever be a farmer?”

“I’m sorry, Father. I’ll try to stop.”

And he did try. But whenever Joji saw one of the farm cats go by, he forgot about his chores and drew another cat.

“Joji will never make a farmer,” said the farmer sadly to his wife.

“Maybe he could be a priest,” she told him. “Why don’t you take him to the temple?”

So the farmer brought Joji to the priest at the village temple. The priest said, “I will gladly teach him.”

From then on, Joji lived at the temple. The priest gave him lessons in reading and writing. Joji had his own box of writing tools, with a brush and an ink stick and a stone.

Joji loved to make the ink. He poured water in the hollow of the stone. He dipped the ink stick in the water. Then he rubbed the stick on the stone. And there was the ink for his brush!

Now, the other students worked hard at their writing. But not Joji! With his brush and rice paper, he did nothing for hours but draw. And what Joji drew was just one thing.

Cats.

Cats, cats, and more cats. Small cats, big cats, thin cats, fat cats. Cats, cats, cats, cats, cats.

“Joji,” the priest told him, “you must stop drawing all those cats! How will you ever be a priest?”

“I’m sorry, honorable sir. I’ll try to stop.”

And he did try. But whenever Joji saw one of the temple cats go by, he forgot about his writing and drew another cat.

That was bad enough. Then Joji started drawing on the folding screens of the temple. Soon there were cats on all the rice-paper panels. They were everywhere!

“Joji, you’ll never make a priest,” the priest told him sadly. “You’ll just have to go home.”

Joji went to his room and packed his things. But he was afraid to go home. He knew his father would be angry.

Then he remembered another temple in a village nearby. “Maybe I can stay with the priest there.”

Joji started out walking. It was already night when he got to the other village.

He climbed the steps to the temple and knocked. There was no answer. He opened the heavy door. It was all dark inside.

“That’s strange,” said Joji. “Why isn’t anyone here?”

He lit a lamp by the door. Then he saw something that made him clap. All around the big room were folding screens with empty rice-paper panels.

Joji got out his writing box and made some ink. Then he dipped in his brush and started to draw. And what Joji drew was just one thing.

Cats.

Cats, cats, and more cats. Small cats, big cats, thin cats, fat cats. Cats, cats, cats, cats, cats.

The screen he drew on last was almost as long as the room. Joji covered it with one gigantic cat—the biggest and most beautiful cat he had ever drawn.

Now Joji was tired. He started to lie down. But something about the big room bothered him.

“I’ll find someplace smaller.”

He found a cozy closet and settled inside. Then he slid shut the panel door and went to sleep.

Late that night, Joji awoke in fright.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

It sounded like a large, fierce animal in the temple! Now he knew why no one was there. He wished he wasn’t there either!

He heard the thing sniff around the big room. It halted right in front of the closet. Then all at once . . .

Yowl!

There was a sound of struggling, and a roar of surprise and pain. Then a huge thud that shook the floor.

Then a soft padding sound. Then silence.

Joji lay trembling in the dark. He stayed there for hours, afraid to look out of the closet.

At last, daylight showed at the edge of the door. Joji carefully slid the door open and peered out.

In the middle of the room lay a monster rat—a rat as big as a cow! It lay dead, as if something had smashed it to the floor.

Joji looked around the room. No one and nothing else was there—just the screens with the cats. Then Joji looked again at the one gigantic cat.

“Didn’t I draw the head to the left and the tail to the right?”

Yes, he was sure of it. But now the cat faced the other way—as if it had come down off the screen and then gone back up.

“The cat!” said Joji. His eyes grew wide. Then he pressed his palms together and bowed to the screen.

“Thank you, honorable cat. You have saved me. For as long as I live, no one will stop me from drawing cats.”

* * *

When the villagers learned that the monster rat was dead, Joji became a hero. The village priest let him live in the temple as long as he liked.

But Joji did not become a priest. And he did not become a farmer.

He became an artist. A great artist. An artist honored through all the country. An artist who drew just one thing.

Cats!


About the Story

This Japanese tale is retold from “The Boy Who Drew Cats” in Gleanings from Buddha-Fields, by Lafcadio Hearn, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1897. Joji is pronounced “JO-jee.” The temples and priests in the story are Buddhist. My thanks to storyteller Grace Megumi Fleming for her suggestions and help with cultural details.