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Kazegafukebaokeyagamōkaru



By being there, the cat gives meaning to humanity. The cat, who lives with us, allows us to reflect on who we are, and what we really care about. Quid pro quo. With cats it is not mere metaphysics. Does this sound pompous and overbearing? Let me explain. As with karma, multiple causal relations can result in a singular effect. In Japan there is this famous saying about cats, although it does not mention them at all. By omission, it makes sense of their important function in society and what would happen without them.


The proverb goes: “風が吹けば桶屋が儲かる, かぜがふけばおけやがもうかる” (phonetically it sounds like: Kazegafukebaokeyagamōkaru), which roughly translates as: ‘When the wind blows, the cooper’s coffer grows’. It means something like: “We don’t know the consequences of our actions, or “Any event can bring about an effect in an unexpected way.”


So why is it particularly favorable for the pail-maker (this ‘maker of wooden tubs’), when the wind blows, and what has this to do with cats? The blowing wind is profitable for barrel makers, because it picks and kicks up dust, which makes people blind who, to overcome their melancholy and to earn a living, become folk-tale singers who play the shamisen: a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument made from cat’s skin. Please bear with me, and with this cruel custom.


As it happens, the demand for instruments causes many cats to be caught for shamisen skins and its snares from catgut. As cats get scarce, rats and mice proliferate, who in turn chew on the wooden tubs and casks, used to store grain, which creates a demand for new ones. The trees that protect the village from wind are cut down to make more grain-storage barrels, which results in even more wind, and in its turn leads to more dust.


In the end the demand for wooden storage-buckets increases even further, but then the land lays barren, the grain stocks diminish. Hunger becomes common and even the pail-maker will lose his lucrative livelihood. The point is that while the story is linear the system isn’t. It’s a self-reinforcing loop of coopers filling their coffers or a vicious chain of cats getting killed.

“The world would be a better place if every world leader had a cat purring in their lap,” I read once in a comic book (Gaston, known in Dutch as Guust Flater), but I do think it gives food for thought. Maneki-neko. The cat beckons.

Sources:

· M. Oldfield Howey: The Cat in Magic and Myth (20030

· Kauru Sumi and Nozumu Yahata: Interactive Storytelling System for Enhancing Children’s Creativity, in: Interactive Storytelling: 10th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling, ICIDS 2017 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, November 14–17, 2017, Proceedings.

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