Magical legend lives on at Odoriba Station.

A lot of Japanese train stations come with a colourful history behind them, but none may be quite as magical as the one attached to Odoriba Station, located in Izumi Ward, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture, on the Yokohama Municipal Subway Blue Line.

“Odoriba” literally translates to “dancing place“, and is used as a name for a number of locations around Odriba Station, as a nod to the fact that this area was once a “dancing place”. However, the dancing that went on here wasn’t done by humans, but by cats, namely magical cats known as “bakeneko” (“changed cats”).

Bakeneko are a type of Japanese yokai, or supernatural creature, with abilities beyond those of regular cats, and the cats that once congregated at the site of what is now Odoriba Station were believed to have danced and talked like humans.

When the station was built on this dancing site, the history of the cats was honoured not only with the name “Odoriba” but with special design homages to the furry animals. The roofs at exit 1 and 3, for example, resemble “cat ears”, making it look as if the station itself is a cat.

▼ And over at Exit 4, cats can be seen dancing above the passageway.

▼ The felines continue to dance throughout the building, with paw-prints appearing on the floors and walls…

▼ …and on the stairs as well.

▼ The skylight at the top of the stairs shows a trio of cats dancing.

There are plenty of cats tucked away in hidden spots like this corner, where an adorable cat reminiscent of a Banksy work can be found.

▼ There are still more cats on the entrance to the Station Office…

▼ …and in between exit signs around the building.

▼ One of the most striking features is two pairs of giant cat eyes on the walls of the main passageway.

For the uninitiated, a signboard inside the building tells the story of the dancing cats and their connection to Odoriba Station. It’s said that a soy sauce shop once existed in this area, which used to be known as Totsuka-juku, one of the rest stops of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido, an important road that ran between Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto.

According to legend, tenugui hand towels used by the family who owned the soy sauce shop began mysteriously disappearing one by one, until one night, the proprietor of the store heard some music from a vacant lot and went to investigate. He discovered a number of cats talking like humans with tenugui wrapped around their heads, including his family’s own striped tabby cat, who led the cats in a dance.

After hearing the story from her husband, his wife put a new tenugui on their tabby cat every night and washed it when it became dirty. This reverence for the cats in the area and their secret activities was even honoured with a memorial to pacify their spirits that dates back to 1737, which remains outside the station to this very day.

▼ The memorial, next to Exit 2, is said to stand at the site of the vacant lot where the cats used to dance at night.

As a site of legend where cats once danced, Odoriba is now listed as one of the 100 best stations in the Kanto region. It really is a fun place to stop off and learn about the history and mysteries of Japan, and it now holds a deserving spot on our list of must-visit unusual train stations in Japan.

Station information
Odoriba Station / 踊場駅
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Yokohama-shi, Izumi-ku, Nakataminami 1-2-1

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