Archive | April, 2011

Lucky Cat contest!

26 Apr

To celebrate the launch of Mystery of the Missing Luck, a new kids’ book that features a Maneki Neko, we’ve teamed up with author Jacqueline Pearce to hold a special draw for a Lucky Cat prize pack. Mystery of the Missing Luck is a chapter book for kids ages 6-8 (published by Orca Book Publishers and illustrated by Leanne Fransen) about a young girl, her grandmother, and what happens when their Maneki Neko statue goes missing from the grandmother’s Japanese bakery.

The prize is a Lucky Cat bag full of unique Maneki Neko (beckoning cat) items from Japan (including a cute plush beckoning cat, a wooden prayer plaque from Gotokuji Temple where the first Maneki Neko originated, tabi socks, hashi/chopsticks, stickers, candy, charm, etc. as well as a signed copy of Mystery of the Missing Luck). All you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment here on this blog (letting us know you’d like to enter and what you think of Maneki Neko or this blog). For extra chances to win, you can also leave a comment on our Lucky Cat Facebook page, and on the author’s blog and Facebook page. We’ll give you a draw entry for each comment (one entry per site). Spread the word by posting a link to the contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter, let us know, and we’ll give you another entry. We’ll be holding the draw May 20 and announcing the winner here and on Facebook.

This is a great prize for Lucky Cat fans of all ages –lots of kawaii Maneki Neko stuff! And, while the book is for kids just starting to read novels, it’s also great for older ESL students. Good luck!

In Bamboo Groves Did the Maneki Neko Roam?

24 Apr

By Jean-Pierre Antonio, Suzuka International University, Japan

Despite the good luck associated with Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat, in general Japanese folk beliefs related to cats tend to be frightening. The domestic cat was believed to possess bewitching powers. In legends, a cat could transform into a woman, and there is even a legend of a vampire cat (the Vampire Cat of Nabeshima in Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan). These superstitions originated in China, where the cat was feared (perhaps because domestic cats live among humans yet retain their mystery and independence). The Japanese Buddhist belief that all animals gathered and wept at Buddha’s death except the cat and the snake, did not help the cat’s reputation. How then did the story of the cat that helped Lord Ii at Gotokuji Temple take root and lead to the creation of the much-loved Maneki Neko, which has spread around the world? How did the image of the cat turn from bad to good in Japan?

There is another animal in China that may explain this mystery. The tiger, although a powerful and terrifying creature, was also greatly respected and considered the King of the beasts. It was one of the Four Sacred Creatures and its breath was associated with the wind, one of the elemental forces of nature. It could ward off illness, demons and ill-fortune. In folk beliefs, the tiger was also considered a protector of travelers, because it was a traveler itself, roaming far and wide through the bamboo forests.

These positive beliefs about the tiger, like the negative beliefs about the common cat, were brought to Japan from China over the centuries. Some of these protective powers of the tiger may then have been transferred to at least one kind of cat, the tortoiseshell, which (because it is coloured orange, white and brown/black) is associated with a tiger, albeit a very small tiger. It is known that in Edo period Japan, ships’ captains liked to keep a tortoiseshell cat on board for good luck during their journeys. This kind of cat, like the tiger, was thought to be a protector of the traveler. The mythological ground was then already prepared for a story like that of Lord Ii receiving protection from a temple cat. Lord Ii was passing the temple when the cat’s  beckoning gesture induced him to move away from a tree, thus saving him from being hit by the lightning which then struck the tree. That cat at Gotokuji, that small tiger, fulfilled its role as protector and thus the legend was born.

The next time you pass a Maneki Neko be sure to show some respect, for in his eyes you may see the tiger that hides within.

Note from Lucky Cat-Maneki Neko: A male tortoise shell cat is also considered lucky because it is rare (tortoise shell cats are usually female -as color pattern is linked to lack of an X chromosome). Maybe the Japanese Bobtail breed is a result of attempting to combine a lucky cat with a cat that can’t turn into a vampire (apparently only long-tailed cats turned into vampires)

Maneki Neko and Japan Earthquake Relief

14 Apr

Here is a smiling manga Maneki Neko by artist Nina Matsumoto (aka SpaceCoyote), who donated her talent to raise funds for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief. You can see results from her “Smiles for Japan” commissions project here: 100 Smiles for Japan

Nina’s fundraiser is finished, but you can still help Japan recover from the devastating March 11, 2011 quake and its aftermath by donating to organizations such as:

Japanese Red Cross – You can donate through your national Red Cross Society (eg. US, Canada, UK Red Cross are working with and fund-raising for the Japanese Red Cross), or you can donate directly to the Japanese Red Cross

American Red Cross – response to Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Canadian Red Cross – Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami relief

Japan Society Earthquake Fund (a US non-profit organization, donating to four nonprofit organizations in Japan)

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support

Or support some of the creative projects that are donating proceeds to Japan earthquake relief:

Quake Book (official title is 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake – currently available as a Kindle ebook -proceeds to Japanese Red Cross)

Quakebook is perhaps the first anthology created through Twitter networking. In just over a week, a group of unpaid professional and citizen journalists who met on Twitter created the book to raise money for Japanese Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. In addition to essays, artwork and photographs submitted by people around the world, including people who endured the disaster and journalists who covered it, 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake contains a piece by Yoko Ono, and work created specifically for the book by authors William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein. See the Quakebook blog for more info and updates.

Songs for Japan -itunes download  (a compilation of hit songs by various artists -proceeds going to benefit Japan Relief)

Songs for Japan – CD (avilable from Amazon -proceeds to benefit Japan Relief)

New Rising Sun: stories for Japan (anthology being created by volunteer creative writers, editors, etc. from around the world –proceeds will go to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief)

Etsy artists for Japan -many artists and craftspeople selling their work on Etsy are donating part or all of proceeds from the sale of certain items to help victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. See Etsy’s “Thinking of Japan” blog post for more info and links to artists and their work.

There are also many individuals and community groups who have been holding fund-raising events to help Japan (for example, Ganbare Japan! a benefit concert April 19 in Vancouver, Canada). Check with local newspapers and community organizations for details about what’s happening in your community. If we hear of more events and projects still in progress and open to a wider audience, we’ll add the links here.

Note: the image above right is the Quakebook logo, which seems the perfect symbol of the way people (within Japan and around the world) are coming together and reaching out to help the survivors of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

“…the discipline and strength of the survivors are inspiring the world.” – David Suzuki

The Road to Gotokuji

13 Apr

There are several legends about the origin of Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat statue that is said to bring good luck to its owner. The most widely accepted story goes back to a poor temple in early 17th century Japan (and is documented in temple records).

The temple, which became known as Gotokuji, was located in the village of Setagaya near Edo (now Tokyo). Although the temple priest barely had enough food for himself, he took in a stray white cat, who he called Tama. The situation at the temple worsened, and one day, the priest told Tama that he might be better off leaving and fending for himself. The cat did not go far, however. Tama sat beside the road near the temple preening himself (the way cats often do) as a storm began to brew. A samurai Lord and his men stopped to shelter under a nearby tree. When the samurai, Lord Ii Naotaka of Hikone, saw Tama’s paw raised as if beckoning to him, he approached the cat. As the samurai and his men moved away from the tree, it was struck by lightning. The cat had saved their lives. Lord Ii followed Tama to the temple, where he and his men were welcomed by the priest.

Grateful, and impressed by the priest, Lord Ii became the patron of the temple. Thanks to the lucky cat, the temple prospered. Later, when Tama died, he was given a place of honour in the temple cemetery, and the first beckoning cat statue was created in his memory. Word spread, and people began placing figurines of beckoning cats in their homes, shops and temples, believing it would bring them good luck and prosperity. Over time, the Lucky Cat statue became popular in China and eventually other countries as well.

Gotokuji Temple still exists, though what was once the village of Setagaya is now a suburb of Tokyo. Under the patronage of the Ii clan, Gotokuji expanded, and now includes a large graveyard where many important members of the Ii family are buried, a large Butsuden Buddha hall, a worship hall, a small older temple dedicated to Maneki Neko, a newly built wooden pagoda decorated with carved Maneki Nekos, and an office where Maneki Nekos statues and wooden emas (votive plaques) can be purchased.

(Small Maneki Neko temple on the large grounds of present-day Gotokuji)

(Gotokuji Pagoda -decorated with carved Maneki Neko)

The statues (purchased at the temple office) are customarily left as a kind of offering on outdoor shelves, which are filled with white cat statues (though the cats may also be kept as souvenirs).

Wishes or prayers are written on the back of the emas and hung on an outdoor board. People may pray or wish for any desire, but concern for pet cats is a special focus at Gotokuji (the temple’s graveyard is even said to have a section for the graves of beloved cats).

In Lord Ii’s day, it would have been a long horseback ride (or an even longer walk) from Edo to Setagaya. Today, it is a 20 minute train ride along the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku to Gotokuji station, then about a 15-20 minute walk from the station to Gotokuji Temple.

Emerging from the modern train station beside a Macdonalds Restaurant, it’s hard to imagine the old narrow dirt road that must have passed by the temple in Lord Ii’s time.

But walking along the bustling row of small shops following the Beckoning Cat street banners, there are glimpses of a past way of life in the laughter exchanged between neighbouring shopkeepers, an old woman serving noodles in a family-run restaurant, futons draped over a fence to air beside the road….

Turning off the busy road and away from the banners, there is a sense of stepping back into a less hurried time and onto a kind of pilgrimage. After walking along a quiet back street of modest houses and gardens, you eventually come alongside a tall white wall with the tops of grave markers visible beyond. Follow the wall until you come to the gate, and you have reached Gotokuji Temple, the home of the first Maneki Neko. Whether or not you believe in the magic of Maneki Neko, you know you have arrived some place special.

(Entrance gate at Gotokuji Temple, Setagaya, Tokyo)

Welcome to the Lucky Cat – Maneki Neko blog!

8 Apr

If you’re reading this, you may already be a fan of the friendly-looking cat statue with the raised paw, or you may have noticed the cat at the entrance to Chinese and Japanese restaurants and wondered about it. Some people call it the “Chinese Lucky Cat,” but it actually got its start in Japan, where it is known as “Maneki Neko” (beckoning cat).

To Westerners, the cat’s upraised paw may appear to be waving, but in Japan a raised hand with the palm facing forward and the fingers folding up and down is a beckoning (“come here”) gesture (in contrast, people in North America  beckon with the back of the hand facing forward). A raised left paw is generally thought to beckon good luck and wealth, while a raised right paw beckons costumers (and perhaps friends). As with anything based on folk traditions, there are variations. For example, some people say the left paw up is for money, while the right paw is for good luck. Others say the left paw is for good fortune, the right for health. Some say the left paw up is for bars and tea houses (in Japan, someone who holds his liquor well is said to be left-handed), while the right is for other businesses.

There are also many variations of the story of the first Maneki Neko. We’ll bring you the most famous one in our next post.