Maneki Neko – Lucky Cat
A Japanese Folktale retold by Jenifer Tull-Gauger
There was once a poor monk who lived in a temple out in the country. He took care of this place as best he could, but it was old and needed repairs. The monk was lucky to have rice and a little fish to eat each day. Still, he always shared some of his food with his cat.
The cat was friendly and cheerful. She made the monk laugh while she played. She always kept him company out there, past the forest in their lone temple. The cat liked her home there. She would always clean her face with her front paws after she ate. They say that if a cat cleans its face, it feels at home.
One afternoon, after the monk and the cat had their only meal for that day, a terrible storm rolled in. When the rain started falling, the cat sat under the shelter of a shrine near the temple’s front door, cleaning her face.
A noble man was traveling that day. The rain had soaked him. Then he found a large tree near the temple’s gate to stand under to try to get out of the storm. He looked around, and through the wind and rain, he could barely see a small animal. It was the monk’s cat, and the movement of her paw looked like the Japanese gesture for, “Come here.”
The noble man did just that: he went to the cat, and she led him into the front door of the temple. All of a sudden, there was a bright flash and loud BOOM where the man had just been. Lightning hit the huge tree and a large branch came crashing to the ground near the roots, right where the noble man had been standing.
He told the monk, “Your lucky cat saved me!”
The monk said, “Don’t worry, you are out of the storm now, and you are welcome to stay the night.”
The noble man enjoyed his time with the nice monk and his friendly, lucky cat. He saw that all they had to feed him was a small bowl of rice. He saw that the building needed repairs.
Before he left, the noble man told the monk that he would be the temple’s donor. He had plenty of money to share. Because of the noble donor’s help, the temple was repaired for all to enjoy. The noble man came back a lot to pray and to learn from the monk. He would also bring money to help the temple. The monk and his lucky cat now always had enough food to eat.
The story of the monk’s cat spread through the land, and people started making lucky cat statues. Stores and businesses like to have them. The small statues move their paws to say, “Come in,” and they can be found to this day in many places in Japan. You can even see them in China and other countries.