Maneki Man Essay

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In the late 18th century, a Japanese prostitute named Usugumo lived and worked in a brothel in Yoshiwara, a section of Tokyo comparable to a modern day red-light district. As the story goes, Usugumo had a beloved cat that could often be spotted at her side even while she worked. One night Usugumo woke up to use the bathroom and the cat began nipping incessantly at her dress in a caveat. Usugumo’s pimp, annoyed by the commotion, walked into the room and proceeded to chop off the cat’s head with a samurai sword, believing it bewitched. The head flew through the air and landed on an imminently attacking snake perched on the toilet. The cat’s teeth pierced the snake, killing it and saving Usugumo’s life. Saddened by the loss of her faithful companion, Usugumo asked one of her customers to carve a statue of the cat from wood. The customer obliged and her memento became a symbol of good fortune throughout the brothel, then the neighborhood, and then Tokyo and eventually the rest of Japan. The Usugumo Legend is just one of many stories attempting to explain the origin of the now globally popular Maneki Neko sculpture. Also known as the ‘Beckoning Cat’—for the placement of one or both of its paws in a come hither position; or the ‘Lucky Cat’—for its mythical ability to bring luck and wealth—the Maneki Neko was born from ancient (and still omnipresent) Japanese superstitions, which suggested that cats were responsible for everything from predicting the weather to sensing domestic disharmony to stealing a dead person’s soul to, most importantly, bringing either good or bad luck. Fast-forward 300-plus years and the cat, in both its literal and product form, still exists as an emblem of hope for prosperity and fortune in the personal and business lives of the Japanese and, through cultural transference, other Asian nations as well. For instance: nearly every restaurant,

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