The Maneki-Neko or beckoning cat.
Many moons ago, in the kingdom of Japan, there lived a wealthy feudal lord named Ii Naotaka who was travelling home one dark and restless night from a long voyage at sea. He was tired and foot-sore, and longed to see his welcoming palace lights and to slip into a sweet-scented, hot, steaming bath. He wished each turn in the road would be a familiar one, bringing him closer to his beloved family, but in place of his beautiful wife and darling children he met instead with a rough and icy gust of wind that almost tugged his cloak clean off his shoulders. All at once, the clouds began to churn and a great storm blew in from the east.
“How unlucky am I?” snarled Ii Naotaka, throwing his cloak over his head. “All I ask is to be home already!”
Spying the temple of Gōtoku-ji beyond a line of trees, he took shelter under one of its spreading cedars as the rain fell in sheets and lightening streaked the sky. Shrinking back miserably from the storm Ii Naotaka caught sight of the temple’s cat peeping out from behind the buttress of the temple walls and, to his surprise, he realised the cat was beckoning to him.
“What nonsense!” thought li Naotaka. “Whoever heard of a beckoning cat? I must have a fever coming.” He ignored the cat most deliberately, thinking his eyes were deceiving him, but then already drenched to the skin, he decided to follow, for what harm would it do anyway?
As he dashed out from under the tree there was a dreadful rumble of thunder, then a blinding flash of light as the tree he’d
been sheltering under was struck by lightning, splitting the mighty tree in two. Shocked by the near miss he’d had the wealthy man realised how lucky he’d been and went immediately to pray at the temple.
Inside the temple li Naotaka met its poor but kindly priest and saw what a magnificent place the temple had once been, and he vowed at once to bring it to its former glory. He became friends with the poor priest and the temple became prosperous and drew many crowds of admirers from near and far. The visitors fed the lucky cat tasty treats of fish, and scratched behind its ears and called it sweetums and pretty puss, and when the cat died, the lord ordered a statue to be made in its honour, and all the people said it was quite the luckiest cat they’d ever known.
Thus was the first maneki-neko made, and thus was born the legend of the lucky cat.
This story comes from the original Japanese legend of the beckoning lucky cat. It features references to li Naotaka, a Japanese feudal lord (March 16, 1590 – August 16, 1659) and how much truth there is to the story is anyone’s guess. If you enjoyed the story, let me know. Similarly, if you like the Maneki Neko, or you are interested in superstitions and luck, let me know. You know how much I love comments, don’t you?
- Japan’s Maneki Neko bring’s luck to America (tokyotimes.com)