Given all the recent campaign news about the US President-elect who bragged about evading taxes, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this wonderful ancient Japanese tale of the tax-evading aristocrat who suffered from gatophobia (ailurophobia) or the fear of cats. Fujiwara Kiyomado was eventually outwitted by a smarter governor. (The fear of cats is called gatophobia (Spanish etymology) or ailurophobia (Greek etymology).
Long, long ago, there was in the capital a peculiar person named Fujiwara Kiyokado. he was an official of the department of finance and held the court rank of goi (fifth grade).
He was a great hater of cats and was so much afraid of these animals that he was nicknamed “Human Rat”. Half for fun, some of his friends would scare him by putting cats beside him. Even in the office he would run away abandoning his work at the sight of a cat. The officials of the department therefore called him “Cat-hating Kiyokado”.
Kiyokado was a rich man with large estates in Yamato, Yamashiro, and Iga provinces. But he would not pay taxes to the government of Yamato Province. In olden times, people offered bags of rice as taxes to the provincial governments. The officials of the Yamato government requested many times that Kiyokado pay the taxes, but he would not pay them.
One day Governor Sukegimi and his men got together to study the best way to make the cat-hater pay taxes.
“If we leave this matter unsettled, he will never pay the taxes. We must do something.”
“As he is a goi-holder, we cannot punish him merely for not paying. He is crafty enough to make some excuse for his neglect of payment.”
They were at a loss what to do with Kiyokado. All of a sudden the governor hit upon a good idea. Just then Kiyokado accidentally came to see the governor, who immediately had him shown into office and the door locked. The the governor began politely, “Dear Kiyokado, why don’t you pay the taxes? I have been strictly isntructed by the central government to collect them from you. I ask you to tell your estate managers to pay the taxes without delay.
“I am very sorry to trouble you, dear Sukegimi. I have been so busy that I was compelled to put taxes, I promise I will pay them in the near future.”
Although cat-hating Kiyokado apparently apologized to the governor, he cried in his heart that he would never tender a single grain of rice to the government. Governor Sukegimi however, was not deceived at all, for he was well aware of the cat-hater’s tactics.
“My friend Kiyokado, you cannot fool me this time. You promised me many times that you would pay the taxes, but you never kept your word. I do not wish to settle this problem today. If you will not accept my request, I will not let you out,” said Sukegimi.
“Please don’t get excited, Governor Sukegimi. Though I have said I would pay them in the near future, I promise you I will pay them in the near future, I promise you I will pay them by the end of this month. Is that satisfactory to you?”
“No, no, I cannot trust you.” The governor continued, “As we have been close friends for many years, I do not wish to have trouble with you. I will let bygones be bygones. Again I ask you to pay the taxes at once.”
Kiyokado, however, held out persistently. “As I told you, I am in no position to pay them right now. I have to talk with my managers about how to pay.”
The governor became excited by his indecisive attitude and cried, “Guards, bring them in!” Kiyokado, remaining calm, wondered what the governor’s men would bring into the room. In a minute, there was heard s meowing in the doorway, and a grey cat came in. She was followed by four others.
“Oh, cats! No, no. Take them out, please,” cried Kiyokado, with a tremble. He earnestly asked the governor, with joined hands, tot ale out the animals right away.
The cats came near the stranger, meowing, and one of them got on his lap while another jumped on his shoulder. A third took a sniff of the sleeves of his kimono, and others ran about the room.
Kiyokado was quite helpless. He looked pale, trembling with fear. At this sight, the governor thought that his tactics had worked well.
“Guards, take them out, he ordered. The cats were immediately taken out and tied with strings to the door post. Unable to move freely, they began a meowing chorus which immensely tortured the cat-hater. He was in a cold swear and felt more dead than alive.
“Well, dear Kiyokado. Do you still wish to put off the payment?”
“Oh, help me, Governor! I will do anything you want me to do. Please take them away!”
“All right. I will have them taken away. But before doing that, i must request you to write a letter to your estate managers. Tell them to pay the taxes today. If you fail to meet my request, I must tell my guards to bring in the cats again.”
“Oh, no! I’ll surely die of shock to death if I see them again. I will be very happy to write a letter.”
Whereupon the governor had brush and ink brought in for Kiyokado’s use. The cat-hater, thus pressed, had no other choice but to write a letter telling his managers to tender inmediately five hundred rice bags to the provincial government of Yamato.
This interesting story soon spread in the capital and people congratulated the witty governor on his splendid victory over the cat-hater.”
The above tale was recounted by NAITO Hiroshi in his compilation of “The legends of Japan” p. 81-84
The original source of the tale, however, is the Konjaku Monogari, with a retelling in the Noh play nekooji no daifu 猫怖大夫
The tale is also mentioned in Diego Cucinelli’s paper,
“Feline shadows in the Rising Sun: cultural values of cat in pre-modern Japan”, Ming Qing Studies 2013, pp. 435-448