Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Maneki Neko Tale... or One of Many Tails

The Mankei Neko is the good fortune cat.  With the right paw raised, he beckons wealth.  The left paw raised beckons business.  Both paws raised beckon both.

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There are many tales of the maneki neko, and this is just one.

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Once upon a time, in the Edo period (17th century), in a tiny village west of Tokyo, there lived a priest and his cat, whose name was Tama.  The priest (and the cat) were very poor, and the temple was crumbling around them.

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Each day, the priest would work and Tama would follow.  At night the priest shared his meager food with Tama, and Tama showed his appreciation by ignoring the priest and sitting wherever he shouldn't.

One day, priest surveyed his temple, which was tumbling down and crumbling around his feet.  Who should he see stepping delicately through the rubble but Tama, who had just finished shedding on the priest's bed.  When the priest saw his cat Tama washing his whiskers instead of rearranging the fallen stones, he became angry, and scolded the cat.

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Tama merely looked at him and continued washing his whiskers.

A few days later the rains began.  Naotaka Ii, who was the lord of Hikone district (which is the western part of Japan, near Kyoto)  had been hunting nearby when it began to rain.  He quickly sought shelter beneath a tree near the temple, and just in time.  The downpour began.  As he looked up, estimating how much longer the rain might last, he noticed Tama in the entryway of the temple, beckoning to him.  It looked as if Tama were inviting Naotaka into the temple.

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Naotaka hoped the temple would be drier than the tree, though from its state, he doubted it was waterproof in any way.  Still, it's not every day that a cat beckons, and so Naotaka pulled his garments over his head and dashed toward the temple and the waiting cat.

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No sooner had he left the shelter of the tree than an enormous lightning bolt split the sky... and the tree under which Naotaka had been standing, leaving it a smoking stump.

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Naotaka watched in amazement, and realized that the cat had just saved his life.  had he not moved, HE would have been smoking where the tree now smoldered.   He hurried inside, where he met the priest.  Naitaka told the priest the story of how Tama had saved his life.  As he told his story, he looked around for a mat upon which he could sit.  There were none.  In fact, there wasn't much of anything in the poor temple.

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Naotaka made a decision.  He and his wealthy family would become patrons of this temple, thus bringing good fortune to Tama and the priest as long as they lived.

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The temple was renamed the Goutokuji Temple, and when Tama died, he buried beneath it.

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At the entrance of the temple, there is a clay figure of a cat, with his left paw raised, honoring Tama.  It is called the Maneki Neko, or Beckoning Cat.   He was, the story tells us, the first Maneki Neko.

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The bracelet and earrings are here.

And the story is right here.

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