The Beckoning Cat


Photo:  Katharine Schroeder

If you walk the streets of any Chinatown, you will surely see the cute little ceramic cat that sits in the window of many shops and restaurants. This cat is named "Maneki Neko" or The Beckoning Cat. The Beckoning Cat is there to bring good luck and prosperity to the business in whose window it sits.

Patricia Dale-Green explains some of the history of the cat in her book "The Cult of the Cat" (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963). She writes:

"The Beckoning Cat is associated with an ancient cat-shrine on the grounds of a temple known as Gotoku-ji near Tokyo. This temple was originally a very poor one, no more than a thatched hut run by poverty-stricken and half-starved monks. The master-priest had a cat of which he was fond, and shared with it such little food as he had. One day the cat squatted by the roadside and, when half a dozen Samurai appeared on splendid horses, it looked up at them and raised one of its paws to its ear, as if it were beckoning to them. The noble cavaliers pulled up and, as the cat continued to beckon, they followed it into the temple. Torrential rain forced them to stay for a while, so the priest gave them tea and expounded Buddhist doctrine. After this, one of the Samurai -- Lord Li -- regularly visited the old priest to receive religious instruction from him. Eventually Li endowed the temple with a large estate and it became the property of his family. Visitors who pass under the temple's gateways, walk through its broad avenues of towering trees and enjoy the beautifully laid-out gardens, discover, near the cemetery of the Li family, the little shrine of the beckoning cat -- which, it is said, still draws pilgrims from all parts of Tokyo. At the entrances to their shops and restaurants, the Japanese place clay, papier-mâché, or wooden figures of the seated cat with one paw raised to the side of its face. Such cats are believed to promote prosperity, their beckoning paws inviting passersby to come in and do business."'



©2002 Katharine Schroeder/The Official Jackie Chan Fan Club for Kids

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