Come hither to a tale of a cat who brought good fortune


Maneki Neko, the Tale of the Beckoning Cat

Maneki Neko, the Tale of the Beckoning Cat
By Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi (Walnut Creek, Calif.: Shen’s Books, 2010, $17.95, 32 pp., hardcover)

This is the story of how the porcelain statue of a white cat with a raised paw became a folk symbol for good luck.

Long ago a hungry stray cat wandered into a small, poor monastery in Japan. Spotted by the single resident monk, the cat curled one paw and rubbed it up and down her dusty face, beckoning to the monk. He named her Tama, and together they lived on the “pinch of rice” or “morsel of tofu or dried fish” shared by the generous but impoverished villagers.

One night a violent storm blew in, and in a flash of lightning, a traveling samurai saw a cat by the shrine. The cat appeared to be waving its paw. The samurai stepped inside the threshold of the monastery moments before lightning split and burned a pine tree directly behind him.
The monk appeared, and brought the samurai and the cat inside for tea. Marveling at his good fortune and believing that the cat had saved his life by beckoning to him, the samurai vowed to bring riches to the monastery. In time the little monastery became the large Gotokuji
Temple. The monk shared his good fortune with the villagers just as they had shared their meals with him.

Village shopkeepers created a likeness of the beckoning cat, hoping for good fortune. Over the years the Maneki (beckoning) Neko (cat) has become a popular Japanese symbol of good luck.

This is the first story I have read about the background of the Maneki Neko, and I think children might be enchanted to learn the story behind the figurine. I wish, however, that the author had used simpler language so that children will not need to have terms like “meager,” “stray tuft,” “torrential,” “hurled,” and “bedraggled” explained.

The illustrator chose to draw the kitten more realistically and less cartoon-like. The village with the monastery on a small hilltop is charming, as is the happy marketplace. The village is filled with goodwill, a perfect place for children to visit in a storybook.

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