You are a person who loves cats or dogs. Me? I grew up with dogs, big dogs. Dogs so tough and wild and strong that I would have to lift my arm off the ground and thread it back into the lace if a squirrel crossed our path.
As you can imagine, I didn’t have a cat. Not that there’s anything wrong with cats, I often saw scruffy Toms running around my grandparents’ farm. Good for catching mice, if they weren’t trampled on by a clumsy cow. Still, I guess you’d call me a dog lover.
One day I saw a little kitten hunting in the field. He was skinny and wet and hungry, and his luck was running out. I hate to see any animal go hungry, so I opened a can of tuna and took it out. Well, for some reason that cat seemed to be hanging around, so I bought some cheap cat food.
Since it was the countryside, there were skunks and opossums and the occasional raccoon stealing the food, so it was necessary to bring the little kitten inside. Just for a little while, you know. Just long enough to make sure I had something in my belly.
Well, before I knew it, summer turned into fall and winter was knocking on the door. To make a long story short, that cat sure was a lucky cat…
Hobo, my lucky cat, was not the first lucky cat. There is a Japanese folktale about Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat. He may have seen a cat figurine with one paw up in his favorite Japanese restaurant or shop. It is believed that such a sculpture brings good luck to the owner.
Why is this cat greeting you? To Westerners it may appear that Maneki Neko is waving, but in reality he is beckoning. The Japanese make signs by raising their hand, palm facing out, and repeatedly bending the fingers up and down. So why is this cat calling you?
A long time ago in Japan, a cat set out in search of food and shelter. After a difficult journey, the cat came across a ruined temple. The modest temple monk had little to share, but he was a kind man and welcomed the trembling cat. That cat, then, was a lucky cat.
One afternoon, a spring storm hit the field. Through the pouring rain, a weary samurai approached the sunken temple. When he saw how poor and pitiful the temple was, he chose to seek shelter under a cherry tree.
The rich man saw the lucky cat beckoning him and, with an amused smile, took a few steps towards the temple gate. FISSURE! Lightning struck and a large tree branch landed right where the lord had been standing just a moment before.
The grateful man thanked the monk and the cat by restoring the temple and helping it to be prosperous. He then became a lifelong friend to both cat and man, and when the cat died, a wooden statue, the first Maneki Neko, was created in his honor.
There are several children’s books that tell the Japanese legend. My favorite is I Am Tama, Lucky Cat, written by Wendy Henrichs and illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi.
It is a beautiful hardcover children’s book with stunning watercolor illustrations that gives readers a glimpse into Japanese culture while retelling a touching story appropriate for children.
I’ve always been curious about those white, orange and black figurines. Yeah, I guess you could call me a cat lover…
lucky cat? Or lucky dog? Comment and let me know.