We’ve all been greeted by the seated, squat kitty with one paw raised as if saluting her ‘come-on-in-hello’ to anyone and everyone either entering or just passing by in front of Asian shops and restaurants. Her name, in Japanese, is more of a description: she’s called maneki neko, which literally means ‘beckoning cat.’ So what’s her story?
Long, long ago – as all good tales start – a lone, poor monk befriended a little cat that appeared one day outside the door of Kotoku Monastery in a small village in old Japan. The hesitant monk named the kitty Tama (as in ‘ball’ or ‘sphere’) and always shared what little he had with her. “Together, they lived a peaceful life.”
One night, a fierce storm brings a disoriented samurai through the monastery gates, beckoned by none other than Tama. The monk gladly gives the exhausted man much-needed shelter. Thankful to both the cat and her humble master for saving his life, the honorable samurai “shower[s] riches on the monk.” His gifts transform the modest monastery to the Gotokuji, giving it “a great increase in size and importance.”
Of course everyone wants such luck to pass through their doors and gates, so Tama gets immortalized in statues, with hope built right into her serene wave. She’s now found throughout the world. “And to this day, she beckons, calling good fortune to each of her owners with a wave of her paw.”
I have to say, illustrator Kathryn Otoshi definitely has a playful spirit about her work. Tama is one bedraggled cat, but he’s definitely got some charm. Check him out chasing moths, his limbs totally splayed out in energetic joy; he’s a stark but comical contrast to the serenely still monk facing the full moon.
One more thing … the whole Hello Kitty-character global franchise phenomenon… I’m convinced there must be some sort of relationship there. Maneki neko … hello Kitty? Anyone know?