the online database of Japanese folklore

Gotoku neko


Translation: trivet cat
Habitat: fireplaces
Diet: carnivorous

Appearance: Gotoku neko are a kind of nekomata–large yōkai cats with two tails. They wear an upside-down trivet on their heads like hats. The tips of their twin tails burn like torches.

Behavior: Just as ordinary cats like warmth, gotoku neko hang around fireplaces. They use bamboo pipes to blow air on the fire and stoke the flames.

Origin: Gotoku neko was invented by Toriyama Sekien in his book Hyakki tsurezure bukuro (“An Idle Bag of One Hundred Vessels”). Its name comes from the gotoku–or trivet–that this yōkai wears like a hat. A gotoku is an iron ring with three or four legs used to hold a tea kettle or pot in a fireplace. It heats vessels while keeping them out of the ashes. Gotoku have occult connections of their own: a famous curse known as the shrine visit at the hour of the ox requires wearing a gotoku upside-down on the head.

Gotoku also refers to the five virtues of Confucianism: benevolence, honesty, knowledge, integrity, and propriety. It is somewhat odd for a yōkai to be associated with virtues, but Sekien makes a joke of it by referring to a story from Tsurezure gusa (“Essays in Idleness”). There was a nobleman named Shinano no Zenji Yukinaga, who was set to perform shichitoku no mai (“the dance of seven virtues”). However, as he danced before the court, he forgot two of the virtues. As a result, he jokingly became known around the court for his dance of five virtues (gotoku). Sekien connects this wordplay to the yōkai by explaining that gotoku neko are often forgetful.

Cats are often associated with superstitions about house fires. For example, if you let a cat sleep near the fireplace, your house will burn down. It was said that the sparks from the fireplace would ignite the cat’s tail, and then the flaming cat would run around the house igniting everything it touched. Although Sekien does not mention it, the flames on gotoku neko’s tails might be a reference to this superstition.

Alphabetical list of yōkai