The protagonist, the youngest son of poor, hardworking farmers, lives in a country village of old Japan. Because he is small, weak, and bright, his parents send him to the village priest to be trained for the priesthood. The boy learns well and pleases his master in almost all ways, but he persists in one act of disobedience—drawing cats whenever he can. Although warned to stop, he continues, as if possessed by a spirit, to draw cats in every color, pose, and mood.
The boy’s disobedience causes the old priest to send him away with the advice to stop trying to become a priest but instead become an artist. The priest cautions the boy to avoid large places at night and keep to the small. Puzzled by the strange warning, the boy reluctantly leaves his temple home and walks to the next village, where there is a large temple at which he hopes to continue his religious training.
He arrives at the temple at night, only to find it deserted and covered with thick layers of dust and cobwebs. He does not know the temple has been abandoned because a bloodthirsty goblin now lives there. Earlier, soldiers entered the temple at night to kill the goblin but did not survive the attempt. The unsuspecting boy sits quietly and waits for temple priests to appear. He notices large, white screens, wonderful surfaces for drawing cats, and soon has drawing ink and brushes ready. He unhesitatingly draws cats, not stopping until he is too tired to continue. Sleepily he remembers the old priest’s warning as he lies down, so he crawls into a small cabinet and pulls the door closed before he sleeps.
Hours later, the boy wakes to sounds of horrible screaming and fighting. He cowers silently while the fight rages, and only ventures out after daylight streams into the room. He finds a floor wet with blood and, lying dead, a monster goblin-rat the size of a cow. Scanning the temple, he notices the wet, blood-red mouths of the cats he has drawn on the screens. Suddenly he understands the priest’s advice, and realizes that his cats have destroyed the goblin in the vicious fight he has overheard. The boy later becomes a famous artist, whose pictures of cats can still be seen in Japan.