Maneki Neko  exhibition at SFO Airport Museum. Pictured: C.K.Itamura, Alyson Kuhn and Linda Smith. Photo by Belinda Li.

Maneki Neko exhibition at SFO Airport Museum. Pictured: C.K.Itamura, Alyson Kuhn and Linda Smith. Photo by Belinda Li.

Maneki Neko

a brief origin story from childhood as recalled by C.K.Itamura in response to the Maneki Neko exhibition at San Francisco Airport Museum (2018)

A long time ago in Japan, the Emperor was traveling through the country visiting shrines and temples. Along the way, his entourage passed through many small villages and when they did, villagers, merchants, artists, farmers and children alike would all stand in the doorways of their businesses, homes and fields to see the spectacle, enjoy the pageantry while hoping to catch a glimpse of the Emperor. In once such village, a narrow dirt passageway was the only road through the town. As the parade of flag bearers, archers, swordsmen, horsemen, drummers, and the Emperor and his personal body guards approached, all the villagers stood in their doorways waiving to welcome them. When the Emperor reached the middle of the town, he saw a most unusual sight: a little white cat sitting in a shopkeeper’s doorway. The cat was looking directly at the Emperor and was smiling at him. Furthermore, the cat had one paw up in the air and was waiving at the Emperor just like all the villagers were! The Emperor was very intrigued by this sight, so much so that he ordered his parade to stop, and so they did. The Emperor wanted to get a closer look at this unusual cat and stepped close to have a look. As he did, the cat surprised the Emperor by turning his back on the Emperor and running into the shop, turning toward the Emperor only slightly and gesturing with his paw “follow me”, and the Emperor impulsively ran after the cat into the shop and his bodyguards followed him. Just at that moment, out on the road, the entourage was viciously attacked by assassins, presumably samurai sent by a Shogun to kill the Emperor. The attack left the entourage in ruins, with many killed or badly wounded, but the Emperor was safe inside the the shop, thanks to the little cat who waved.

The Emperor rewarded the special white cat with a scarf and a little bell, and from that day until today, the Maneki Neko is a symbol of welcome, trustworthiness and good luck!


C.K.Itamura
August 17, 2018