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猫の恩返し物語


猫姫様の掛軸

 称念寺(猫寺)は江戸時代のページを開いた初期 慶長11年(西暦1606)に開基上人が松平信吉公(徳川家康公の義兄弟)土浦城主の帰依を受け建立されました。その当時 300石の寺領を得て寺は栄えておりました。
しかし松平信吉公が没すると共に、松平家とだんだん疎遠の仲となり、いつしか300石の寺領も途絶え、称念寺の寺観は急激に色あせてまいりました。
 さて、3代目の住職還誉上人の頃のお話になります。
和尚は一匹のかわいい猫を飼っていました。寺禄を失った和尚の日課のほとんどは、その毎日を托鉢による喜捨にたよるしかありませんでした。しかし、猫を愛した和尚は自分の食をけずっても愛猫を手放すことはありませんでした。
そんなある日 名月の夜でした。、和尚は疲れた足をひきずるようにして托鉢を終え寺へ帰ってきて、山門をくぐり本堂に近づいた時、ギョッとしてそこへ棒立ちになりました。 世にも美しい姫御前が優美な衣装を身にまとい月光をあびながら、扇をかざし、いとも優雅に舞っていました。本堂の障子には、月光により姫御前の後姿が愛猫の影としてボウッと映し出されていました。愛猫の化身ときづくと和尚は「自分はこんなに苦労しているのに、踊り浮かれている時ではあるまい」と立腹し心ならずとも愛猫を追い出してしまいました。
 姿を消した愛猫は数日後、和尚の夢枕に立ち、「明日、寺を訪れる武士を丁重にもてなせば寺は再び隆盛する」と告げました。翌朝その通りに松平家の武士が訪れ、亡くなった姫がこの寺に葬ってくれるよう遺言したと伝え、以後松平家と復縁した寺は以前にも増して栄えました。
和尚が境内に愛猫を偲んで植えたと伝えられる老松があります。一本の太い枝が地面と平行に20メートルにも及び、横にのびた姿は猫が伏した姿を表わすといい、猫松とも呼ばれています。
その後 称念寺は動物の霊位を手厚く供養しています。
松平信吉公の墓所

The Grateful Cat —Folk tale of a cat returning the favor

Shonenji Temple, also known as Neko Temple, was established by the temple's Kaiki (founding patron) Shonin in 1606, the 11th year of Keicho era when the first chapter of Edo era began, when Matsudaira Nobuyoshi, who is Tokugawa Ieyasu's adopted brother and the feudal lord of the Tsuchiura domain, made a convert to Buddhism. At that time, the temple was well flourished after receiving 300 koku of temple estate.
However, after the death of Matsudaira Nobuyoshi, the relationship between the temple and the Matsudaira family gradually became estranged. As time slipped away, temple lost 300 koku of temple estate and the appearance of the temple fell abruptly.
Here, let us talk about the story of the third-generation chief priest.
The priest had one adorable cat. For the priest who had lost allowances, he did not have any choice but to rely on the charity of religious mendicancy on a daily basis. However, the priest loved the cat so much and did not let go the cat even though he had to starve himself to share some of his food with the cat.  
One day on the full moon night, the priest returned from a wandering mendicant with weary footsteps. When he passed through the temple gate and reached close to the main hall, he stood stock-still for a moment in astonishment. He saw a beautiful princess wearing elegant dress and dancing gracefully with a fan under the moonlight. On the shoji screen in the main hall, he saw a shadow of his loving cat in the back of the princess in a reflection under moonlight. When the priest saw the princess in disguise, he got angry and threw out the cat from the temple because there was no time for playing and dancing while he had to go through hard times getting some food.

A couple days after the cat disappeared, the priest's cat appeared in his dream and told him "Tomorrow, samurai warriors will come to the temple. Give them a special reception and the temple will flourish again." Next morning, the samurai warriors of the Matsudaira family visited the temple just like the cat said, and asked the priest to enshrine the deceased daughter in the temple. Since then, the temple was reinstated in its position with the Matsudaira family and the temple became more flourished more than before.
There is an old pine tree on a premise of the temple that is said to be planted by the priest to cherish his loving cat. It is also called neko matsu, or cat's pine tree, and its wide branch extending 20 meters long in parallel with the ground is said to represent a cat lying down sideways.

Since then, Shonenji Temple has held memorial services in cordially to spirit of deceased animals.

 
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