Japanese tale #28 – The carpenter’s cat


Once upon a time, there was a carpenter who lived near Kanda Myojin shrine, in old Edo.

The poor man had lost his wife quite young, but had never remarried. He was a melancholic soul but kind and loved by all his neighbors.

The carpenter’s only companion was a calico cat he had taken in as a kitten.

Every morning, before leaving to work, he filled her bowl with white rice. And every evening, on his way home, he bought her fresh fish from the fishmonger’s.

The carpenter had even built her a comfy cradle from perfumed cedar wood.

With such great care, the cat’s three colored coat was always soft and shiny. After diner, the man loved to sat on in porch, enjoying the feeling of silken fur under his calloused fingers. And the cat purred and purred while the two of them contentedly watched the moon.

But time went by and one day the carpenter had to see a doctor:

– Sensei, something is wrong with my eyes: I only see the world in a blur.

The learned man examined him before he sighed sadly:

– I am so, so sorry. But there isn’t any known cure for this disease.

In a matter of months, the carpenter became completely blind.

As he could not work anymore, he soon had to sell everything he owned and had to rely on his neighbors and local monks’ charity to survive.

Yet, despite his poverty, the man always kept the best shares for his beloved cat.

– I’ll always take care of you, whatever it takes.

Autumn passed and Winter settled in. Despite people’s good will, life was getting harsher and harsher for the former carpenter.

One freezing night, as the poor man was cuddled up with his cat, trying to keep warm, he suddenly burst into tears:

– Oh what are we gonna do. My eyes are dead, I’ve lost our roof and very soon I will not be able to feed you properly.

– Meow.

The cat answered, as if she understood his ragged words. The carpenter held his only friend close to his heart:

– I know I should find you a good family who will take care of you, but I’ll miss you so much…

Still crying, the carpenter finally fell asleep.

A gritty feeling woke him up. Something cool and rough was touching his eyelids.

– W-what…

His hands encountered warm fur.

– Oh it’s you. What are you doing there?

The carpenter tried to move his cat, by she kept squatting back up beside his head.

She licked his right eyelid, then his left one.

Her rough tongue on his sensible skin left a strange tickle and the carpenter couldn’t hold back a small laugh:

– You’re truly weird sometimes, you know that ?

From this night on, the cat took a habit of licking the carpenter’s eyelids every evening before bed.

– You must think I am some sick kitten you’ve got to nurse back to health right?

Then, one morning, the man woke up to a nebulous clarity. After months in the dark, he could see light.

He ran to the doctor:

– Please, please! Tell me I am not dreaming!

The doctor could not believe what was happening:

– I have never heard of such a remission. But yes: it seems your eyes are truly getting better!

The carpenter’s mood was soaring.

Each passing day, the world became a little clearer. Until at last, the veil from his eyes completely lifted.

The carpenter was truly seeing things for the first time in ages. He turned to his beloved cat and gasped.

The cat’s once bright amber eyes were milky white and cloudy.

The man took is now blind cat in his arms and cried:

–  You’ve sacrificed your eyes for me? You silly beast! But fear not, I’ll always, always take care of you!

And his cat purred and purred and purred.


Calico cats (mike neko in Japanese) are considered very lucky animals around the world and Japan is not exception. For example, if other coats colors (mostly white) are now widely spread, tortoiseshell-and-white is still considered to be the luckiest color association for maneki neko statues.

They are many stories of calico cats bringing good luck to their owners. Japanese sailors used to keep tortoiseshell cats on their ships to insure safe travel. This good luck charm was considered even more effective if cat was a male calico (as they are super rare!).

They say calico and tortoiseshell cats are especially attached to their owners. They are often (wrongly) considered especially talkative, feisty-yet-playful animals who lighten the mood of their families. But as a cat owner, I’ll stress every kitty can do that – whatever the fur coat he wears!

[pictures sources:  1 / 2 / 3]


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