The Legend of Maneki-Neko

If you travel west from Tokyo via the Odakyu rail line into Setagaya-ku, you can find a temple named Gotoku-ji. This Buddhist temple is located near the station of the same name, a short walk away. Walking behind the main hall of the temple you can find what looks like a memorial, a grave, with many offerings about it - and prayer notes offered for good fortune.

About the gravestone stand many cats - ceramic cats painted in white or other colors, adorning the site. For this is the resting place of Tama: the beckoning cat.

Documents held at the temple tell of events in 1615, when a monk took in a Japanese bobtail cat. The temple was in a very sad state with few parishioners, and in desperate need of repair. After caring for Tama for a time, the monk lamented: “Tama, I can’t blame you for not helping, after all you’re just a cat. If you were but a man, you might do something to help us.”

Soon after, a large group of samurai and their retainers passed the temple during a storm. Their leader was Ii Naotaka (1590-1659), (hereditary owner of Hikone Castle, Shiga) returning with honors to Edo after victory at the siege of Osaka Castle. Ii Naotaka took shelter from the storm under a tree. He was lured into the temple grounds by a cat sitting at the temple gate beckoning to him. Moments later a lightning bolt hit the tree he had been resting under. On entering the temple Ii met the monk and was impressed by his wisdom and touched by the plight of the temple. As a result Gotoku-ji became the Ii family temple, drastically reversing the fortunes of the temple and ushering in a period of prosperity that continues to this day.

When the cat died, the priest gave her a burial with full honors and the legend of Maneki Neko was created to honor Tama.




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