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Lucky Cat in lost Japantown

23 May

When the friendly waitress handed me this plate during dinner at a Japanese restaurant this past weekend, I knew there would be a story to share. Kudos restaurant is located in an old wooden house covered with vines on a tiny street in a small Vancouver island town where I least expected to find a Japanese restaurant. The meal was delicious, the waitress  and cook (I think they were also the owners) were welcoming and generous (serving us more than one on-the-house item) . . .

and Maneki Neko turned up in more than one spot.

It wasn’t until our after-dinner stroll around the block that we came across a mural and sign and realized that we were walking through what had once been a tiny but thriving Japantown.

Before WW II, the small sawmill town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island had a Japanese community of about 300 people. During the war, Canadians of Japanese descent were removed to internment camps (losing their homes and businesses), and many did not return afterward. Chemainus fell on hard times in the early 1980s when its mill closed, but transformed itself into a tourist destination as a town of outdoor murals. Though little remains of the original Japanese community, it is remembered in one of these murals.

The owners of Kudos restaurant (9875 Maple St –around the corner from the Hospital auxiliary thrift store in the lower part of Chemainus) immigrated from Japan a decade or so ago, and are part of a new community, which depends less on natural resource industries (though the mill has reopened) and more on arts, culture and tourism, (the town is now known for its murals, eclectic shops, and live theatre).

Lucky Cat Thrift Store

21 Nov

Walking along Victoria Drive in Vancouver (near 37th St.), I noticed a thrift store, and on a whim, decided to go inside. As I perused the shelves crowded with household items and nick-nacks I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. Until I saw the Japanese Daruma, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might find a lucky cat. An instant later and two objects to the left and behind the Daruma, there they were. Not one, but two lucky cats. It seemed I was meant to find them.

It wasn’t until I walked up to the check-out counter with my lucky find that I noticed the gold lucky cat by the cash register, the two living cats, and the big white beckoning cat looking out through the front window. It must have worked its beckoning magic without me even being aware of it.

Show me your Nekos, New York! *

1 Aug

By Jacqueline Pearce, author of the children’s book, Mystery of the Missing Luck (http://wildink.wordpress.com/)

Although Lucky Cats are originally from Japan, the world’s Chinatowns are a great place to find them. And what better place to look than in one of the largest and oldest Chinatowns in North America, New York City’s? Even before I got to Manhattan’s Chinatown neighbourhood I spied some gold Lucky Cats amid the New York souvenirs on a street vendor’s cart near Battery Park.

I love the old buildings, colours, and wrought iron fire escapes in New York’s Chinatown. By 1870, there were about 200 Chinese immigrants living in the neighbourhood around Mott Street, Park, Pell and Doyers Streets, east of the notorious Five Points district, which was New York’s most derelict and overcrowded slum area at the time. By 1900, there were 7,000 Chinese residents in the area, but fewer than 200 were women (thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which made it difficult for the men who had come to North America to work on the railroads, etc. to then bring their wives and families over).

Today, there are 90,000-100,000 residents in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but growth has slowed due to high rents, and many Chinese immigrants are now moving to suburbs or the newer Chinatown neighbourhoods of Flushing and Brooklyn.

I don’t know when the first Lucky Cats found their way to New York, but walking along streets such as Hester, Pell and Canal today, they look back at you from many windows.

(Notice the “I ♥ China” hats in front of the shop below)

(Lucky Cat or Lucky Rabbit?)

(Ever wonder what the Lucky Cat sees as it looks out at you?)

There were no signs of any Lucky Cats/Maneki Nekos in the very good Japanese restaurant I ate dinner in on my last night in New York, but I don’t think I saw a single Chinese restaurant without one. Here’s the one that welcomed me on my first night in the city, performing its beckoning job well (luckily, the food was good too).

Goodbye, New York! I had a lot of fun searching out your Lucky Cats (not to mention a few other sights). Keep those paws beckoning (you too, Liberty), and I’ll be back.

*Thanks to Marlene Zach, one of Lucky Cat – Maneki Neko‘s fans on Facebook, for the phrase used in the title of this post

Lucky Cat welcome and delicious food!

2 Jul

We’ve been hoping to post a story about the current Maneki Neko exhibit at the Mingei Museum in San Diego (March 13, 2011 – Jan 15, 2012), but it looks like we’ll be making a couple more stops before then.

First, a plug for Narita Sushi Restaurant near the Metrotown Mall in Burnaby, which welcomes hungry diners with a Maneki Neko noren (the split curtain that traditionally hangs in the entrance to a Japanese shop) and friendly beckoning cats sitting on the counter under the noren. The food is great, and the service friendly. The chef even came out of the kitchen to ask how we enjoyed his unique yam tempura tries (dribbled with three delicious sauces). The fries were so good I can feel them beckoning to me as I write this!

Taste of Asia in Burnaby, Canada

4 Jun

From Chinese food and healing herbs to Japanese candy and Philippine baking, the Crystal Mall in Burnaby (at Kingsway and Willingdon, near Metrotown) has plenty to offer to someone with a craving for a taste of Asia. This applies to fashions, toys, cooking utensils, and other consumer goods as well food (there’s even a store that sells those modern Japanese toilets with all the bells and whistles). And there are plenty of Lucky Cats to be seen (many, not for sale, but in use to beckon costumers and good fortune into the stores). Here are a few I spied on a visit to the Crystal Mall back in February:

This last group of Lucky Cats (above) is in the window of Moon Bear, a store that sells authentic Japanese Maneki Neko (including cell phone charms and stickers as well as more expensive figurines of different sizes) as well as other gift items.

A stop at the Crystal Mall is not complete without a visit to CandyLand, where you can buy a variety of fun candy from Japan (I came away with a bag full).

The Chinese traditonal herbal medicine store (below) looks intriguing.

Check out the whiskers on this last Lucky Cat (the Crystal Mall is possibly the only place I’ve  seen Lucky Cats with actual whiskers –not just painted on).

Next stop on the Lucky Cat tour? With a little luck, we’ll be heading south to San Diego, California, and the Mingei Museum.

Grinning Lucky Cats

17 May

These unusual Maneki Neko with laughing open mouths caught the eye of photographer James Kemlo in a craft shop in Atami on the Izu peninsula, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan.  The Lucky Cats hold fans, swords, umbrellas and fish, rather than the usual gold coin. Instead of sitting straight up in the standard beckoning cat pose, they lounge around, looking quite casual and joyous. Perhaps their wide, laughing mouths give them extra beckoning power –like they’re having a party you’re welcome to join. The three Lucky Cats in the store window display were each a different color – one blue, one white, and one red (a change from the more common white or black). Each one is hand-made individually by a local craftsperson from clay and kiln-fired. 

For more of James Kemlo’s photos of Japan, check out his Views of Japan blog. You can also find him on Twitter @JapanPhotos.

The Lucky Cat in Vancouver’s Chinatown

10 May

Pay a visit to Vancouver’s historic Chinatown and you are sure to see a few Lucky Cats — welcoming customers into businesses and also for sale.

Modelled after the original Japanese Maneki Neko (beckoning cat figure), the Chinese-style Lucky Cats tend to be colored gold –reflecting their goal of attracting money and good fortune.

They range in size and price (all the way up to super large $150 Lucky Cat).

If you look closely, you might even find a tiny Lucky Cat charm (there’s one for sale amid the trinkets below).

Of course, there are plenty of other interesting things to see and buy in Chinatown. Besides the restaurants, food, household items, etc, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden (below) is a tranquil oasis even on a rainy day.

If you’re searching for a Japanese-style Lucky Cat, you can find one right on the edge of Chinatown at Yokoyaya, a Japanese 100-yen-style store (associated with the Japanese Daiso chain) in the International Village (Tinseltown) Mall.

Everything in the store is $2 –even these Maneki Neko below (made in China for Daiso).

These popular and inexpensive Maneki Neko figures go fast, and each time I visit the store, the stock seems to be different, so you never know what you’ll find. The yellow, pink, and white beckoning cats and Darumas below, for example, were in the store one week and gone two weeks later.

Sometimes you can even find a beckoning Tanuki (a Japanese raccoon dog that, in folklore, is a shape-changing, sake-swilling trickster-like figure).

Sometimes you can find other Maneki Neko items like rubber stamps, tea cups, or this framed Maneki Neko:

So, if you feel the need of a little Maneki Neko luck in your life and can’t manage a trip to Japan any time soon, the nearest Chinatown may be the next best thing.