Tora Species in Liminal Chronicles | World Anvil

Tora (虎:とら)

Archeologists say that Japan's tigers died out eons before recorded history. But what if I told you that's not quite true?  
by SoulGIE
Tora is the word in Japanese for tiger. Here we'll use it to refer to the Panthera Tigris Japonica . I am a storyteller by trade. Scientific articles are not the norm for me. But I will do my best to stick to the facts and not meander into extraneous tales.


Truth Beyond Contradicting Science Reports

If you do an internet search for tigers in Japan, you'll find conflicting information. Some sources say Japan never had tigers, likely because the islands split from the Asian continent before the animals existed. Thus, any art and tales about tigers are from ones that were imported from China or Korea. Others suggest pelts from the continent and house cats were used as models.1&2   Other sources say there are fossils of a smaller breed "due to the environmental amount of space they had and the types of prey they had to consume during those time periods".3&4   But dear reader, one only need dig into the legends and the art itself, and (if you are fortunate) find the right contact to discover the truth.



As with its continental cousins, the tora is a large, muscular cat, usually orange with black stripes and white facial and under body areas. Though, like their ancestor Byakko (see sidebar), white tigers appear in rare instances. Tiger families consider themselves blessed when this happens.  

by Kishi Chikudō

  They are smaller than other tigers, but they may change size or shapeshift if the occasion demands. In tora, there is no noticeable size difference between the sexes. Tora also have a flatter face than mortal tigers.   While I have often found much truth in folklore, the idea that male tora have stripes and females have spots isn't true. Those cats are a different species, which I can cover in another issue.


Peculiar Eyes and Clearing Up Misconceptions

Tora have slit shaped pupils, often more so than their mortal cousins. The slit contracts as needed to allow more or less light into the eye and express the tiger's emotions.

by Hashimoto Gahō

by Kishi Chikudō

  Critics point to the slitted pupils in many Japanese paintings, saying that house cats were the models instead of actual tigers because house cats have slitted eyes and tigers don't. But, a regular tiger's pupils can be slitted. Note the images below, cropped down to focus on the eye. (Click on the links below the pictures to visit the source images with full tiger faces)

by Oscar M Gersol

by Shahzaib Damn Cruze

  Also, remember we are talking about a yokai tiger species. So there will be differences between the mortal tigers the human world is used to seeing and the immortal ones. Do all kitsune look exactly like their mortal fox kin? No, most have multiple tails—a warning to humankind that they are dealing with a powerful spirit.



Not quite. It was difficult for humans to differentiate between yokai and mortal tigers, especially when the tora went to save their mainland cousins. Every warlord wanted a tiger pelt rug to show off his hunting prowess. So humans killed both the tora and mortal tigers for their beautiful coats.   The only real way to tell the difference between tiger types is by looking at the eyes or to witness the tora performing magic. (All yokai are ki users.) Either way, for a human to tell the difference they have to be entirely too close for the tora's comfort (and likely the human's).   Those that remain have sheltered in the spirit realm, hidden away from the humans that hunted them nearly to extinction. They do not emerge into the human realm any more.   How do I know this? I accidentally wandered into the spirit realm while visiting Hokkaido and encountered one. But she did not give permission to share her name or any other personal details.



1 Japanese Tiger and Dragon
2 Quora on Tigers in Japanese Artwork
3 Tiger Taxonomy and Evolution
4 The Myth of the Japanese Tiger
5 Why Do Cats Have Vertical Pupils? The Hunt's the Thing

Excerpt from Proceedings of the Nonogawa River Valley Historic Society

  Written by Shitani Daisuke from issue 171, focusing on connections to the Island of Hokkaido.


via Rawpixel


History and Myth Intertwined

  Japan's history is deeply connected with folklore and myth. For example, the display of the national treasure "Oni Kiri" sword housed at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. If you are fortunate enough to see it on the rare day it's put out for public display, you'll see mentions of the oni Ibaraki Douji.

Scientific Name
Panthera tigris japonica, sometimes called Panthera tigris acutidens2
Related Ethnicities
Byakko, Guardian of the West, who came down from the constellations of the heavens to establish the tigers of Japan. His name, 白虎, translates to White Tiger.
Ecology & Habitat
Forests of Japan
Dietary Needs & Habits
Obligate carnivore, hunts wild game and the occasional human
Behaviour & Psychology
Tends to shy away from humans, sensitive, emotional, deeply connected to its clan and friends, energetic, confident, powerful, can be rebellious which may lead to the tora choosing a solitary life
Average Lifespan
Average Height
~75cm/2.5 ft
Average Weight
~250 kg/550 lbs
Average Length
~200 cm/78 in
Average Intelligence
Extremely intelligent
Social Structure
Clans (extended family) or solitary
The noble tora would never allow itself to be domesticated

by user4431435

Cover image: by Odette.A.Bach (Art), AWV (text)


Author's Notes

Again, this is where I deviate from real world Japan. Modern Japan has no tigers. But some sources say the archeological records show there was a smaller subspecies a long, long time ago. Tigers are commonly found in Japanese art. What happened to them? Were the tigers artists depicted simply from descriptions, hides, or peeks at gifts from other countries?   It was just too good an opportunity to pass up. Sounds like a Liminal Chronicles legend in the making to me!   Areas were I got especially "creative" and deviated from the traditional folklore and myths are denoted with this symbol .

Please Login in order to comment!
28 Jul, 2023 21:32

I love the mixture of science and myth here, and also the fact it's written through another's eyes.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
31 Jul, 2023 16:16

Thank you! I'm going to have to write more as Shitani-san. It's really fun! lol!

Author of the Liminal Chronicles urban fantasy series | vssCollab very short story prompts | Author Website
Eternal Sage Wordigirl
LexiCon (WordiGirl)
7 Aug, 2023 15:36

Lovely and intriguing little article indeed. It is quite fun to write from an in-world character's perspective!

9 Aug, 2023 15:57

Thank you! <3

Author of the Liminal Chronicles urban fantasy series | vssCollab very short story prompts | Author Website
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