Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maneki Neko "Lucky Cat"

With only a few minor changes, the Chinese lunar calendar and zodiac, spread to other Asian countries like, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Only in very few instances, did another country change the year of the rabbit to the year of the cat.

In the end, however, "Rat" who caused "Cat" to be excluded from the Chinese Zodiac, only bears the name of every twelfth year, while "Cat" is known far and wide, with his likeness appearing everywhere. "Cat" is welcomed daily into homes and shops around the world, because he is also known as "Lucky Cat."

Japanese Calico Bobtail Cat

It was some time in the early part of the 17th century, in a little village to the west of Tokyo, in Japan, where there was a very humble temple that had fallen into disrepair.

The priest who resided at the temple was aging and very poor. He would have been very lonely, except for his only treasure, his pet bobtail cat, Tama. Now Tama was a very unusual cat, in that he was a tri-color, a calico. Almost every calico cat everywhere is a female, so Tama's color made him an exceptional cat.

Each day the priest would go about his temple duties with Tama following close behind, and in the evening he would share his meager portions of food with the cat.

One day when the situation seemed particularly bleak, the priest complained to Tama, saying that surely there must be something the cat could do to help out at the temple. After all, the priest said, he had taken care of the cat for quite some time now. Tama was busy washing his face while the priest talked on at some length, he only stopped his grooming for a brief moment, to look up at the worried face of his dear friend.

That night the priest prayed that somehow things would improve tomorrow, and that he and Tama would have food to sustain them. Then they went to sleep as usual, neither knowing what new difficulties another day would bring.

In the morning the priest arose early as was his habit, and he set about doing his daily chores. The sunshine faded, and it began to grow very dark. The priest looked up to see the gathering gray thunderclouds in the sky, and he began to move more quickly in the hope that he would be able to finish his work before the rains came. Mysteriously, Tama had not come with him this morning, and he wondered where the cat had gone. Hopefully, Tama had not gone far, and he would get home before the rains came.

Meanwhile, Tama had made his way to the front gate of the temple, and there he remained as if he was waiting to greet someone.

People were rushing past the temple now, eager to get home, as the sky grew darker and the cold rain drops began to fall. Tama watched with great interest, as one young gentleman sought cover from the rain. The young man had run under the leafy branches of the big tree at the edge of the temple's yard.

The gentleman was Lord Naotaka Ii from the Hikone district near Kyoto. Naotaka had been out hunting, when he noticed the rapidly approaching storm, and now he was trying to make his way back home.

When Naotaka realized that he would have to wait a few minutes before he could go on, he leaned against the tree to be more comfortable. After a moment he finally looked up to see the dilapidated temple. There in the doorway of the temple was a calico cat, and the cat was making an odd motion with its paw, the cat seemed to be beckoning him to come to the temple.

Curious, Naotaka decided to leave the cover of the tree, to see why this cat was waving for him to come to the temple.

Naotaka was only a few steps away from the temple gate and the odd little cat, when an enormous bolt of lightening flashed across the sky and struck the tree.

When Naotaka looked back, he saw the charred remains of the tree under which he had been standing, and he knew that his life had been saved by the cat who had beckoned him to the temple. Yes, little Tama had saved Lord Naotaka's life.

Naotaka went inside the temple and met with the old priest. After relating the story of how Tama had saved his life to the priest, he noticed the poverty of his surroundings. Naotaka decided that his wealthy family should become the patrons of this temple; and with that decision the priest and Tama would have much good fortune.

The temple was renamed Goutokuji Temple, and when Tama died he was buried beneath it. A clay figure of a calico cat with his left paw raised was made in honor of Tama, and it was called Maneki Neko (beckoning cat.) According to some, the Maneki Neko was considered to be the incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy. Even today, owners of lost or sick cats go to the temple to pray for their beloved pets.

Maneki Neko/Lucky Cat

In time Maneki Neko also became known as "Lucky Cat." He could be found in shops everywhere, to entice customers to please come inside.

The gold coin held by "Lucky Cat" is the Koban, an early Japanese monetary unit that was worth about $1,000. Today the coin represents ten million times that much, or a very sizable fortune.

There are numerous legends about Japan's first Lucky Cat, or Maneki Neko (beckoning cat.)

Later Maneki Neko would also become a charm to keep evil spirits away, only this "Lucky Cat" would have his right paw raised as if to protect.

Lucky Cat Paws and Colors:

The Left Paw
Invites customers or people.

The Right Paw
Invites money and good fortune.

Both Paws
Protects home or business.

The Bib and Bell
Represent Wealth and Material abundance.

The Calico Cat
Traditionally the luckiest cat of all.

The White Cat
Symbolizes Purity, and positive things to come.

The Black Cat
This cat wards off Evil and stalkers when placed facing North.

The Golden Cat
Brings Wealth and Prosperity when placed facing West.

The Red Cat
Brings Love, Marriage, Good Fortune in business and personal matters when placed facing East.

The Pink Cat
Brings Love, Happiness and Romance when placed facing Southeast.

The Green Cat
Brings strength in Academics (education/studies,) and sometimes Health when placed facing South.

Perhaps you do not remember seeing "Lucky Cat" at your favorite Japanese, Chinese, or Thai restaurant. Next time you visit, be sure to take a good look around, because he is there I assure you.

In the meantime, there is a very good chance that you will see "Hello Kitty," among your daughter's toys, or on a shelf in almost any store. She was created by a Japanese company about thirty years ago, and there are many who believe that she was inspired by "Lucky Cat."

"Hello Kitty"

Click Here To Color Your Own Lucky Cat


  • Aussiegirl said:

    What an absolutely beautiful story, Bonnie -- and beautifully told too. This would sell as a children's book - you should think about writing stories like this that tell interesting but true stories. Thanks!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 24, 2006 8:34 PM  

  • That was truly a great story. I had never heard the story of the calico cat but it has always been one of my favorites.

    I think I will try to find one of each of these eleven kittys to place in my couldn't hurt!

    Thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Connie and Rob, at January 25, 2006 5:27 AM  

  • Wow....I have one of these kittys in the form of a teapot given to me by my first born grandson many years ago as a Christmas present he purchased with his own hard earned money. I had no idea that there was a true story behind my kitty! How wonderful to have this information. BTW, my kitty's right leg is raised and it forms the pouring spout. Thanks for this post, now my kitty has a whole new meaning.

    Welcome to my blog, too and thanks for visiting!

    By Blogger martie, at January 25, 2006 11:52 PM  

  • Martie, I am thrilled to have played a part of your discovery of the story behind your teapot. I have had very similar things happen to me, and it would just give me chills, so I can well imagine how you feel. I'm sure you are very eager to tell your grandson what a "good shopper" he was so many years ago.

    I have been looking at all of the various "Lucky Cats" online, looking for the special one who wants to come and live with me. ;)

    By Blogger BonnieBlueFlag, at January 26, 2006 3:08 AM  

  • Martie, It occurred to me this morning, that I would love to see your teapot. It would be nice if you could post a picture, and the story about your grandson, on your web site.

    By Blogger BonnieBlueFlag, at January 26, 2006 10:20 AM  

  • That was a really sweet story, and you told it so well! I had never heard it before.

    By Blogger Timothy Birdnow, at January 26, 2006 12:46 PM  

  • It strikes me as rather odd that throughout history many Asian cultures share similar stories such as this one of truly gentle beauty, which is said to form the foundation of their culture. Yet they show little hesitation in treating each other with possitively brutal harshness.

    I guess life is chock full of these little dichotomies though, isn't it?

    Love the story Bonnie,But I still don't do cats.....

    By Blogger TJ Willms, at January 30, 2006 6:12 PM  

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