Once upon a time, a Japanese lord was riding by a dilapidated temple. With an intro like that, you know a fascinating story must follow.
So begins one of my favorite tales about the beloved creatures known as Maneki Neko or Lucky Cats.
But what does that story have to do with my cruise aboard the beautiful new MSC Seascape? The story is relevant because of the tasty dinner I enjoyed in the ship’s Kaito Sushi Bar and was greeted by a Lucky Cat.
A Lucky Cat beckons to diners on MSC Seascape
First, let me tell you how this casual little restaurant works. Kaito has a wonderful way of showcasing its fresh delicacies prepared by sushi chefs.
The dishes pass before the diner in domed dishes with varying color plates on a moving conveyor belt. The colors designate how much each dish costs. Just pick the ones you want and pay the bill at the end.
A paper placemat at my dining spot explains the costs – $5 blue, $6 orange, $7 red, $8 pink, $9 yellow and $14 green. The menu also has colored photos of various dishes including those not on the conveyor belt.
Delicious Options on Conveyor Belt
I watched all the dishes pass by before deciding my choices. Here are some of the delicious options:
Nigiri – sushi consisting of a small ball of rice smeared with wasabi sauce and topped with raw fish or other seafood.
Sashimi – thinly sliced raw seafood served without rice and typically eaten with soy sauce. The word means “pierced fish.”
Maki – fish, vegetables or other ingredients rolled up inside of seaweed and vinegared rice, then sliced into round-size bites. The seafood may be raw or cooked.
Futomaki – a roll of seasoned rice and fillings wrapped in a thin sheet of roasted, dried nori seaweed, then sliced crosswise into rounds and served with wasabi and pickled ginger. Word means “fat rolled sushi.”
Temaki – hand-rolled type of sushi characterized by its conical shape. Looks like an ice cream cone filled with rice, raw fish and vegetables wrapped in a piece of nori seaweed.
A $9 dish on the conveyor belt
Other Menu Items
The menu also offers a wide variety of tempura, teriyaki, otsumami, soups, noodles, rice, salad and desserts that aren’t on the conveyor belt. Plus a nice selection of wine, beer and cocktails.
For my dinner, I had a Tiger Asian Lager Beer plus cooked shrimp, yellowfin tuna and miso soup with diced tofu, leeks and wakame. Dessert was batter-fried banana and homemade vanilla ice cream.
My dining choice on Kaito Sushi Bar. The tea pot contains soy sauce.
For a fancier meal with some Asian chef entertainment, Kaito Teppanyaki is located next door to Kaito Sushi Bar. I won’t be eating there on this cruise but it looks like a special fun dining experience.
A $7 sushi choice on the conveyor belt.
Lucky Cat Legend
As I left Kaito Sushi Bar, I stopped to take a photo of the Lucky Cat sitting on the counter and waving to folks. The little mechanical figure is said to bring good luck or prosperity.
Known as Maneki Neko – meaning “beckoning cat” – the charming critters are often seen at entrances to Japanese and Chinese restaurants. That’s where the Lucky Cat tale comes in as I cruise on MSC Seascape.
Like many beloved creatures, Maneki Neko has a legend behind it. If you haven’t heard the tale, I’ll share it now. The lucky cats have been popular since Japan’s Edo Period which ran from 1603 to 1868.
The story goes that a lord was riding by a dilapidated temple that was now home to only one priest and his old cat. Suddenly, a dangerous storm began brewing. The lord and his horse sought refuge under a nearby tree.
But then, the lord spots the priest’s cat with his paw raised beckoning him in the temple.
For some reason, the lord complied. Moments later, lightning strikes the tree. If he hadn’t moved, the lord would have been killed. He knew that cat had saved his life.
In honor of his good fortune, the lord revived the shrine and made it his family temple. Now, people from around the world visit Gotokuji, the actual place in Setagaya, Japan, and purchase Lucky Cat figurines. Many leave their souvenir cats at the temple to honor granted wishes.
Lucky Cat Symbolism
As for that lifted paw, sometimes it is the right, sometimes the left. Sometimes, it is both.
The left paw is calling for customers and the right paw is calling for money. Having a Lucky Cat is thought to bring its owner good luck.
There is also a great deal of symbolism especially surrounding the color of the cat. The traditional color of calico is considered to be the luckiest.
White means happiness, purity and positive things to come. Gold signifies wealth and prosperity. Black wards off evil spirits. Red denotes success in love and relationships. And green means good health.
Even what the Maneki Neko is wearing and holding has a meaning. The traditional Maneki Neko is a finely dressed cat usually adorned with a bib, collar and bell. In the Edo period, it was common for wealthy people to tie a little bell to their cat’s collar so they would know where it was.
Some cats hold a small marble or gem supposed to be a money magnet, although some people believe the marble or gem is meant to be a crystal ball and represents wisdom and future knowledge.
That’s one of the great joys of traveling – learning something new about this amazing world and our fascinating history.
See MSC cruises sailings here: MSC Cruises (cruisecompete.com)