Maneki Neko is the cat figurines that you see all over Japan in front of shops and restaurants, which is believes to bring good fortune to its owner. So here is a little short throw back story from my recent visit to Japan, the Story of the Origins of Maneki Neko.
I LOVE Maneki Neko! well, maybe I just love anything cat. Curious, I wanted to know how the Japanese started to have such regards for Maneki Neko or for cats in general. Following a local tip, I made my way to a small village outside Tokyo into a temple call Gotokuji, the birth place of Maneki Neko.
Gotokuji Temple is located at Setagaya Ward Tokyo, away from the buzzing Tokyo. The temple nestled all the way in through a lane of beautiful majestic Pine Trees. Gotokuji Temple itself is famous for the grave of Sir Ii Naosuke, the chief Minister of the Tokugawa Government in the Edo period. Gotokuji temple is known as a Zen Temple and also a shrine to the well loved Maneki Neko.
This is how the story begins, once upon a time ago when the temple was a shabby hut, there was a monk that live there with his cat. The monk could barely live on the small income he gained from his alms but he loved his cat and cared for it like his own child, sharing all the little meal he has with his cat. One day he said to the cat, “if you are grateful to me, bring some fortune to the temple”
After many months, one summer afternoon the Monk hear sounds around the gate, and there he saw five or six samurai warriors on their way home from hunting approaching him and leaving their horses behind. They said, “We were about to pass in front of your gate, but there was a cat crouching and suddenly lifted one arm and started waving and waving when it saw us. We were surprised and intrigued, and that brought us to come here to ask for some rest.” So the Monk served his bitter tea and told them to relax. Suddenly the sky darkened and heavy rain began to fall with thunder. While they waited for the sky to clear, the monk preached the past, present, future reasoning sermons. The samurais were delighted and began to think about converting to the temple. Immediately, one samurai announced: “My name Ii, I am the king of Hikone, Koshu prefecture. Due to your cat’s waving, we were able to hear your preaching. This has opened our eyes, and seems to be the start of something new. This must be the Buddha’s will”.
Soon after they returned home, Ii donated huge rice fields and crop lands to make the temple grand and generous as it is now. Because of the cat, fortune had been brought to the temple. Therefore, Gotokuji is called the cat temple. The monk later established the grave of the cat and blessed it. Before long the statue of the cute waving cat was established so that people might remember the episode and worship it.
Now everybody knows the temple as the symbol of household serenity, business prosperity, and fulfillment of wishes.
When I visited, the temple was empty. I was feeling a little bummed and was wishing for someone to ask questions to get my story, I was walking around lighting my own incense when out of nowhere an old man in his 70s appeared and greeted me in Japanese. After I got over my shocked, I realized he wanted to tell me the story of the cat, unfortunately, my Japanese doesn’t go pass basic. But he wasn’t gonna let me leave without the story, so he went limping back to what he said just around the corner to get the story translated into English. After waiting for good 20 minutes, I followed the ‘corner’ he was referring to which actually led through a long road, out of curiosity, I followed the road for about 5 minutes on before I saw him waving from about 2 blocks away. His ‘around the corner’ was surely far and I was so touched by his gestures as he came limping towards me, by the time he reached me, I couldn’t help but cry and gave him a big hug ‘arigatou’
Thank you Maneki Neko for sending your guardian to share your story and so that this story can continue to be shared throughout time. That piece of paper the old man gave me had become one of my precious keepsake, it helps me remember the kindness of human heart, the kind that would last a life time.
The next time you are in Japan, if you want to visit Gotokuji Temple, from Shinjuku station take the Odakyu Line and drop at Gotokuji. Gotokuji Temple: 2-24-7 Gotokuji Setagaya – Ward, Tokyo.