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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where did the Lucky Cat come from?


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: lucky cat history

Why: The Chinese New Year was Feb. 14. Farmville let me put this thing in my yard (even though it is Japanese):
(My farm is also done up real nice for Mardi Gras.)

Robin and Gibson both have tattoos of that kitty.

Answer
: First, its official name is Maneki Neko ("Beckoning Cat"), and it's also called Welcoming Cat, Money Cat, and Fortune Cat. You often see ceramic sculptures near the entrances of shops and restaurants, beckoning you to come in and give the owners some money.

One story of origin about a priest and a samurai:
In the 17th century, there was a dilapidated temple in the west of Tokyo. The old priest kept a cat called Tama, and he often muttered and complained to Tama about his poverty. In spite of this, the old priest always shared what little food he had with the cat, until one day there wasn't a scrap of food to be had. Worn down by years of near starvation, the priest shouted at his cat. "Tama, I have always fed you despite not having enough to eat myself. Couldn't you do something for this temple?" The cat got up and wandered out of the temple.

It so happened that Naotaka Ii, the Samurai lord of the district, was out riding near the temple. It had started to rain heavily. Naotaka Ii took shelter under a large tree when he noticed Tama in front of the temple. The cat appeared to be beckoning him. "What would a cat want with a Samurai?" he thought and left the shelter of the tree and walked towards the cat. As he did so, lightning brought the tree crashing down. The beckoning cat had saved his life.

Scooping up Tama, the Samurai rushed into the temple. "Who owns this lucky cat?" he bellowed. "Tama is my companion, my lord," answered the old priest. In gratitude for the cat saving his life, the Samurai made the temple his family temple, and it went from being dilapidated to a temple of splendor. Tama lived in luxury for the rest of his life, and when he finally died, he was buried with great ceremony. It is said that Maneki Neko was created in honor of Tama.

How darling.
Another story, this time about a courtesan:

In the 18th century, in a house in Yosiwara, was a courtesan by the name of Usugumo. She was very popular and also a lover of cats. She kept her favorite cat by her side at all times. One night, as Usugumo was preparing to meet her guests, her cat began tugging violently at her kimono. Whatever she did, the courtesan could not stop the cat from pulling at her gown.

Becoming afraid, Usugumo cried out for help. The Madam of the house came rushing in and, believing the cat to be possessed by an evil spirit, cut off its head with a sword. The head flew up to the ceiling, where it bit and killed a large snake that had been poised to strike Usugumo.

The courtesan fell into deep mourning over the loss of the loyal and brave cat. To try to console her, one of her guests carve a likeness of the cat from aromatic wood. This carving became known as Maneki Neko - the beckoning cat.

Source: Best Cat Art, Wikipedia

The More You Know: Other stuff about the kitties:
  • It is beckoning, not waving. That's how Japanese people beckon.
  • If the left paw is raised, it brings in customers.
  • If the right paw is raised, it brings in wealth and luck.
  • White cats (the most popular) represent purity and attract positive things.
  • Red cats attract love, marriage, and personal happiness.
  • Black cats ward off evil spirits and stalkers.
  • Green cats bring in good health or knowledge and academic success.
  • Most hold a gold coin, a koban, worth something like $1,000.
  • A large fish symbolizes abundance and good fortune.
  • A mallet symbolizes good fortune.
  • Most wear a red collar, bell, and bib, which were worn by cats in prosperous homes in the Tokugawa period. The bell helped the owners keep track of the cats.

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