You might think that Hello Kitty is the most famous cat in Japan but it’s actually the Maneki Neko.
Maneki Neko is usually referred to as “beckoning cat,” “fortune cat” or even “lucky cat” in English. The cat has a raised paw, either right or left, and is said to bring good luck to its owner and in that sense, is similar to the daruma!
So what’s the story behind the raised paw?
Gotokuji (temple) in Tokyo is said to be the birthplace of Maneki Neko (although those from Kansai, the west of Japan, seem to disagree).
A long time ago, Gotokuji was merely a shabby hut with a monk who could barely make ends meet with his income. He had a cat who he loved immensely. One day, out of frustration, he asked the cat to bring fortune to the temple as a sign of its gratitude.
One fine day, the monk heard some sounds outside and saw six samurai at the temple. The samurai had stopped as the monk’s cat had unexpectedly raised one paw and started waving at them. This surprised the samurai. Suddenly it started raining heavily and the samurai requested to stay at the temple till the rain ceased. While waiting, they heard the monk’s preaching which opened their eyes to a new way of life.
Believing this to be the Buddha’s will, on returning home, the samurai donated generous sums to the temple which resulted in the temple becoming prosperous. The cat had brought fortune to this small temple and since Gotokuji also came to be called “cat temple.”
Today, people place Maneki Neko within the Gotokuji precincts and pray for good luck. Wherever you go within the temple, you will see cute Maneki Neko.
Even the ema (votive tablets) have images of the lucky cat.
You can see statues of Maneki Neko in various spots. The smallest size of the ceramic neko costs about 300 yen.
This is one of the many stories about the origin of the Maneki Neko. Have you heard any other stories? You can also decorate your own Maneki Neko, find out where and how.
Address: 2-24-7 Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
If you plan to visit Shibuya in Tokyo, then this is just a few stops away!