The Lucky Cat

Kevin Coolidge
Kevin is the creator of The Totally Ninja Raccoons and lives in Wellsboro Pennsylvania

Feb 06,2018

You’re either a cat person, or a dog person. Me? I grew up with dogs, big dogs. Dogs so rough and wild and strong, that I’d have to pick my arm off the ground, and screw it back into the socket if a squirrel crossed our path. As you might imagine, I didn’t have a cat. Not that there’s anything wrong with cats – often I’d see scruffy toms scampering ‘round my grandparents’ farm. Good for catching mice, if they didn’t get tromped on by a clumsy cow. Yep, guess you could call me a dog person.

One day, I saw a little kitten hunting in the field. He was scrawny and wet and hungry, and running low on luck. I hate to see any animal go hungry, so I opened a can of tuna and set it out. Well, for some reason that cat just seemed to keep hanging around, so I bought some cheap cat food. 

Being it was the country, there were skunks and possums and the occasional raccoon that would pilfer the food, so that tiny kitten would have to be brought inside. Just for a little while, you know. Just long enough that I would make sure he got something in his belly. Well, before I knew it, summer turned to fall, and winter was knocking on the door. To make the story short, that cat sure was a lucky cat…

Hobo, my lucky cat, wasn’t the first lucky cat. There’s a Japanese folktale about Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat. You may have seen a cat figurine with an upraised paw in your favorite Japanese restaurant or shop. Such a sculpture is believed to bring good luck to the owner.

Why is this cat waving at you? To Westerners it may appear that Maneki Neko is waving, but he’s really beckoning. Japanese beckon by holding up the hand, palm out, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back up. So, why is this cat beckoning you?

Long ago in Japan, a cat set out in search of food and shelter. After a difficult journey, the cat came upon a dilapidated temple. The monk of the modest temple had little to share, but he was a kind man, and welcomed the shivering cat in. That cat, then, was a lucky cat.

One afternoon, a spring thunderstorm raged across the countryside. Through the pouring rain, a weary samurai approached the sagging temple. When he saw how poor and pitiable the temple was, he instead chose to seek shelter beneath a cherry tree. The wealthy man saw the lucky cat beckoning to him, and with a smile of amusement, he took a few steps towards the temple gate. CRACK! Lightning struck, and a large tree limb landed just where the lord had been standing only a moment before.

The grateful man thanked the monk and the cat by restoring the temple and helping it become prosperous. He then became a lifelong friend of both cat and man, and when the cat died, a wooden statue, the first Maneki Neko, was created in his honor.

There are several children books that tell the Japanese legend. My favorite is I Am Tama, Lucky Cat written by Wendy Henrichs and illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi. It’s a beautiful hardcover children’s book with breathtaking watercolor illustrations that offers readers a glimpse into Japanese culture while retelling a poignant tale appropriate for children. I have always been curious about those little white, orange and black statues. Yep, guess you could call me a cat person…

Lucky Cat? Or Lucky Dog? Comment and let me know.

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