Tag: Featured

The Story Behind Japan’s Iconic ‘Beckoning Cat’

In a new article, National Geographic delves into the history of maneki neko — Japan’s famous “beckoning cat” — and how the image became ubiquitous in modern society.

Chances are you’ve seen maneki neko even if you don’t realize it. The iconic feline image has transcended its homeland and is common not only in China, Vietnam, Thailand and the rest of Asia, it’s also made its way to the US and Canada as well, earning a place in shops run by Japanese and westerners alike.

Maneki Neko at Setagaya Tokyo
Visitors leave their own maneki neko statues at the shrine, often with personal messages asking for different blessings and written in black marker on the back of the statues. Credit: Pain In The Bud

There’s a reason for that: The waving cat not only represents luck and good fortune, it’s a welcoming gesture meant to attract customers. Maneki neko find a place in homes too, with different coat colors and patterns representing different positive attributes: A white cat is supposed to bring happiness, while a black cat wards off evil spirits and a calico is believed to bring luck in all its forms.

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Maneki Neko statues at Setagaya shrine. Credit: PITB

As a cat lover I kept an eye out for the iconic statues during my time in Japan and, although I missed Buddy, I couldn’t leave without seeing where it all began: The cat shrine at Setagaya, a quiet Tokyo suburb where, according to legend, a feudal lord followed a beckoning cat by the roadside and found refuge from the elements in a humble shrine, where the temple monk invited them inside and gave a memorable sermon.

The feudal lord was so grateful for the hospitality, and for finding shelter to wait out a violent thunderstorm, that he vowed to become the temple’s patron. The grounds contain several temples today, as well as separate shrine areas for maneki neko left by visitors and wooden icons with hopeful messages written on them.

All images in this post are from my trip to Setagaya’s cat shrine in the summer of 2019. To see more, check out the post I wrote at the time from Tokyo.

A Cat Really Did Bring Her Kitten To An ER In Instanbul

Buddy and I were a bit skeptical when we first heard the story of a cat who padded into the emergency room of a hospital, carrying her kitten by the scruff of the neck, to plead for help for the little one.

The story first appeared on Reddit without any details, but we were able to track down some of the people involved to fill out the narrative and answer some questions.

A woman was waiting in the emergency room of Kucukcekmece Hospital in Istanbul at about 5 p.m. on April 27 when the cat dragged her baby through the open doors.

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A mom cat brings her sick baby into an ER in Istanbul. Credit: Merve Özcan

The witness, Merve Özcan, described the kitten as “a little bit mischievous” in Twitter posts about the incident.

An article in Sözcü, a daily newspaper whose name translates to “spokesperson,” said the mother cat brought her kitten right up to the blue-gowned hospital staff, meowing for attention.

Hospital staff immediately helped — more about that below — and the cat mom followed them, keeping her eyes on her baby as they brought the kitten into a room for treatment.

“While the kitten was being cared for, the mother cat was given milk and food,” the newspaper reported. “Hospital staff ensured full treatment by passing them onto a veterinarian after their intervention.”

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Staff take the kitten as the mother watches. Credit: Merve Özcan

The story doesn’t say exactly what was wrong with the kitten, and Özcan did not know either.

While this story would seem insane to most of us, it starts to make a lot more sense when you consider where it happened: Istanbul, a city famous for its massive cat population, and the humans who revere those felines.

From the Legal Nomads travel blog:

Cats are the most beloved animal in Istanbul and the living attraction of this huge city. They are extremely friendly, come in all sorts of cuddly colors and sizes, and always respond with a greedy “meow.” Stray cats usually take the best seats at cafes and restaurants in Istanbul without anyone even bothering moving them. They maneuver around tables and customers, inside and out of the buildings in search of the most comfortable spot.

Caring for the city’s hundreds of thousands of cats is a community effort: People feed them, pet them, bring them to veterinarians when they’re injured, and even build little dwellings for them.

With that in mind, it makes sense that a cat in Istanbul would know to approach humans for help, and to go to a hospital. If the mom cat lives in the area, undoubtedly she’s seen the sick and injured walk through those doors many times.

“Money is not an issue to some people when it comes to cats,” Ozan, a pet shop employee, told Reuters. “They take in cats with broken legs, blind ones or ones with stomach problems and bring them to the clinic. When they see that they are healed, they let them live on the street again.”

In an article titled “Istanbul: The City of Cats,” Goran Tomasevic of Reuters describes the relationship between the city’s inhabitants and their feline friends:

They are so ubiquitous that no one bats an eye at a cat padding across the lobby of a high-rise office building, or when one curls up to sleep on a nearby barstool. Shop owners and locals often know their neighbourhood cats by name and will tell tales about them, as if chatting about a friend.

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A cat house next to water and food bowls on an Istanbul street. Credit: Reuters

A 2017 documentary, Kedi (Turkish for cat), explores the world of Istanbul’s street cats and the people who love them. Pictured at the top of this post is Kedi director Ceyda Torun, posing with cats in Istanbul.

You can watch a trailer for the documentary here:

The Many Styles of Cat Fu

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Welcome, young grasshopper.

For the next 10 years, these temple walls will be your home. Before you return to the realm of man and cat wearing the orange robes of a true sifu, you will learn the many styles of cat fu!

Dissatisfied With Wet Food Technique:

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“You dare feed me tuna? Prepare to die!” Primarily deployed against humans, this style is effective in registering displeasure at meal time. It should be accompanied by a shrill, as-annoying-as-possible meow.

 

Invisible Skateboard Style:

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“Tony Hawk is an amateur who cannot defeat my style!”

Stance of the Five Bladed Bitch-Slap:

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“Step away from my treats!” A powerful stance to strike fear into the hearts of cats and humans alike. The extended claws signal you mean business.

Toxoplasma Gondii Technique

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A true cat fu Master need not use his fists, for he is able to control and manipulate the minds of simple creatures like humans.

Whirling Tuxedo Style:

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“You steal my Temptations? Prepare to die!”

Can Opener Fist of Doom:

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If this technique were not so difficult to master, humans would be rendered obsolete.

Flying Strike of Wake Me Up and Feed Me Breakfast:

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“You dishonor your family by sleeping until 5:59 a.m. Get out of bed and feed me breakfast, or feel the full extent of my wrath!”

Soiling Tiger Style:

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“You shall rue the day you chose not to clean the litter box.”

Stop Petting Me Before I Bite You Technique:

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“I enjoyed the petting and now demand that you stop, human.”

Stance of the Broken Wand Toy:

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“Better get to the pet store and buy me a new one, or else…”

Inebriated Catnip Boxing Style:

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“Oh man, this is good stuff. Who’s got the munchies?”

Crouching Tabby, Hidden Buddy Style:

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“This is stealth, not cowardice. My enemies cannot see me because I am inside a bag!”

Lazy Claw Technique:

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“We shall have our duel after I finish my nap!”

Photographs of kung fu cats taken by Hisakata Hiroyuki. Photos of lazy Buddy by me.

This Is Why You Shouldn’t Mess With Tigers

Gather round, kids, and listen to another tale of how cats always win.

My cousin has been married to her husband, Rob, for more than 25 years, and on one of their early dates he took her to the Bronx Zoo.

These were the days before the famously large tiger enclosure was remodeled into Tiger Mountain. Nowadays a series of huge fiberglass panels separates the tigers from the visitors, meaning there’s no open air between them.

You can probably thank Rob for that.

Back then only a reinforced fence separated the Earth’s biggest cats from people who’d come to gawk at them, and Rob decided he’d get my cousin to laugh by goofing off in front of a tiger.

He started off making a few faces, and the other visitors — kids, their parents, other couples looking at the tiger — found it funny. (At least according to Rob they did.)

Encouraged, Rob stepped up his act, dancing and waving until one tiger in particular took interest.

“What are you going to do, tiger?” he taunted. “That’s right! Nothing! You can’t do anything!”

The tiger roared, and Rob roared back. The huge cat was clearly not amused by a human dancing like a clown, making stupid faces and taunting it with an insulting approximation of a roar.

So the tiger turned around.

“That’s right!” Rob said, declaring premature victory. “Walk away! You can’t do nothin’!”

Oh, but the tiger could.

The annoyed cat raised its tail, backed up a stride and let loose a projectile — “a wad” is how Rob described it — of thick, gooey urine, hitting Rob square in the face.

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The tiger had impeccable aim.

“It was enough to fill that,” Rob said, pointing to a large soda bottle. “It was all over me. It was in my mouth!”

Rob staggered back and lost his footing, taking one of the young bystanders with him as he fell. The angry mother stared daggers at him as she yanked her kid away, realizing with horror that he’d suffered collateral damage from the gooey salvo.

As for the tiger, it chuffed and, having proved its point, sauntered away.

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Miraculously, my cousin agreed to continue dating Rob. Not that she found the episode flattering.

“That should have been the big warning sign,” she joked.

Today they have two adult daughters. As for Rob, he’s an executive at one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, but says he has no illusions about his level of maturity.

“The way I was back then is the way I am now,” he told me. “I’m still an idiot.”

He may be an idiot, but he’s not going to mess with any more tigers.

Buddy laughing
. “lol dude I’m chuffed.”:/..