The Maneki-Neko or “The Beckoning Cat” is an iconic symbol found in most Asian stores and business establishments. If you have been to an Asian shop or restaurant, you may find these ceramic or plastic figurines on cash registers, shop windows, and display shelves with its paw in the air as it continuously beckons you to come closer.
The reason many Asian shops have this cute figurine is mainly because it is said to bring fortune to your home or business. Many of these statues usually depict a calico Japanese bobtail cat holding its paw up to bring luck and happiness inside the area. However, depending on the colour and which paw it is raising, the maneki neko is said to bring either fortune, happiness, love, and good health.
What many may not be aware of is that this lucky charm is subject to several folktales from the land of the rising sun. The most popular version of which tells the legend of the Gotokuji Temple in Edo now known as Tokyo:
Legend has it that the Gotokuji Temple was once cared for by a local priest, who despite his relative poverty would often share his food with his cat.
One day, a wandering samurai who was on his way home happened to pass by the temple during a heavy downpour. The samurai, not wanting to get wet, took shelter under the temple’s nearby trees where he noticed a cat strolling around the temple grounds. The cat, raising its paw in the air beckoned the samurai to come closer to the temple. The samurai, curious at this gesture followed suit and decided to heed its direction, where a few moments after, a bolt of lightning struck the tree where the man stood only moments ago. The man then realized that if it had not been for the cat’s gesture, he too would have meet his untimely death.
Grateful for the cat, the samurai, who was also a very wealthy man, rewarded the priest and the temple with a generous amount of funding. Years later when the cat passed away, a special burial was made in honour of the “lucky cat”.
Today, the Gotokuji Temple is known as the birthplace of the lucky cat charm. Visitors who wish to visit the spectacular temple in the Setagaya Ward in Tokyo can see a small area filled with tiny maneki neko statues.
If you are curious to visit the temple where the lucky cat originated from, you’re in luck since the temple is easily accessible from central Tokyo! First, go to Shinjuku station where you will take the Odakyu line in the direction of the Hon-Atsugi. This will lead you to Gotokuji station which takes around 30 minutes. The shrine is located five to ten minutes away from the station where it is nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The Gotokuji Temple opens everyday from 6am to 6pm where entrance is free.