People of ancient Japan dreaded, even loathed felines to the point that their folklore labeled cats as cursed animals. The cat, not native in origin to Japan, was imported by a Japanese nobleman around Tenth Century BCE. The traits of the cat were not well received as they tended to tear down paper walls and scratch up wooden posts and furniture.

Legend speaks of the cat and the serpent as the two animals that did not cry when the Buddha died. Moreover, cats were known to hunt the rat, the legendary animal that was sent to gather medicine for the Buddha. With time, Japanese myth developed even further to grant felines power over dead spirits. Japanese sailors, although disliking cats, brought along three-colored cats on voyages to protect them from dead spirits believed to reside in the whitecaps of ocean waves.

Nekomata: A cat would become a “goblin cat” if the remedy, a severed tail, was not applied.

Obaké-neko: Mistreated and old cats could become “ghost cats” by legend.

Maneki-neko: A figurine with a raised paw encourages visitors, money, good luck, or good health, depending color and which paw it has raised.

However, a Thai legend speaks of cats that saved a golden goblet belonging to the Buddha, by hooking their tails around it and not letting go. This accounts for the kink at the end of the tail of almost all Thai cats. Anther story states that when a certain princess went to bathe and gave her rings to a cat to guard, it kinked its tail so they wouldn't fall off.

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Well, what about that enigmatic red cat with the raised paw that is so ubiquitous throughout Japan? It seems like every secretary, every shopkeeper, has one on their desk. What's up with that?

When I was researching Japanese history for purposes which need not concern us here, I read that way back in the Yayoi Era (300 B.C. – A.D. 300) an emperor was traveling through the countryside on horseback. Suddenly it began to rain. He looked over at a house he was passing and noticed a cat sitting on the porch; when he met its eye it waved at him. Intrigued, he dismounted and approached, while behind him, his horse was killed by a lightning bolt. The grateful emporer declared that henceforth the cat would be memorialized for saving his life. That's why this waving cat is a symbol of good luck.

Sorry, I can't remember where I read this bit of lore.

jinmyo alerted me to the fact that there's another version of this story at Maneki Neko, and I see there's also one at The beckoning cat. Interesting that they're all a little different, though.

It seems that this is a common feeling in Japan

I was at an enkai late one night with four of my gaijin friends. We stumbled out of the restaurant and found our mama-chans to head for home. We were pedaling along a back alley when we heard a rather loud and persistent yowling. Being drunk, I didn't really think anything of it, but my friends stopped out of curiosity.

This back alley happened to run along a small canal (or a very large gutter) of the type common to Japanese towns. As we honed in on what sounded like a large cat, my two female compatriots begin to exclaim "Oh, it sounds like it’s in trouble! We have to do something!" The animal also proceeded to get louder as we approached.

(Side Note: Both of these girls were excessively hot and I thought that my odds were pretty decent with one of them. In addition to this, I had recently watched The Tao of Steve and was eager to do something excellent in front of her. Being a little drunk only made this seem more logical and realistic. This is maybe a good reason to move this writeup to, Things men do when they are drunk and horny.)

As these two girls continued to exclaim their sympathy for the poor animal, I obviously volunteer to fish the thing out. I lie face down on the ground (its my nice shirt too goddamnit!) and reach my hand down into the canal. Now, while the canal is too deep for me to reach the bottom, it also has only a few inches of pretty slow-moving water running through it. I am wondering where this thing is and start to brace for the feeling of claws coming through my skin when my hand stumbles on a cold, wet, shivering lump of fur just slightly bigger than my hand.

This wretched little kitten was trapped on maybe a two-inch wide ledge at the bottom of the canal, just above water level. It is shivering and yowling even louder now, so I bring it close to my chest, at which point it digs its claws into my shirt and clings on for dear life. While the girls are cooing and oohing over the cat and my fireman trick, my other friend Joe has brought his bike to the edge of the canal. He turns on the front light and shines it into the dark water. I am not paying attention at this point, being to involved in the praise being lavished upon my ego. That is until Joe softly says "hey mate, check this out."

At the bottom of the canal, illuminated in the weak glow of the flashlight, are the bodies of more than a dozen kittens. We all just look at them for a minute, not really saying anything, just blinking. Then the one clinging to my chest digs its claws in a bit more (something that snaps you back to reality pretty quickly). I look down at this incredibly loud little bastard and say "well aren't we the lucky one." This kinda brings everyone back into focus and hottie number 1 asks, "so what're you gonna name 'im?" I think about it for a minute and say "well, considering that I've already had a cat named Lucky, and we're in Japan and all, I think this one's name is Rucky."

So that's how I got my Japanese cat (and yes, he claws the hell out of my tatami, wood doorways, and paper doors). I also never had any ruck, er...luck with hottie number 1.

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