Somewhere in Tokyo stands a singularly fascinating temple that is unique not for its architecture or even history, but for the thousands of “beckoning” cat figurines that seem to be residing inside it!
Maneki Neko, in Japanese, means “beckoning cat” and, is in fact a common talisman that sits in front of restaurants, stores and market places, and welcomes good fortune. This adorable ceramic sculpture of Japanese Bobtail is actually a popular Fortune Cat that is believed to usher happiness and prosperity.
Although generally white in color with a few orange and black patches, the Maneki Neko can be found in a number of other avatars, each bearing a special significance. The white stands for purity and contentment, while the gold signifies financial success and affluence. Red brings love and green, good health.
The Maneki Neko is usually impeccably dressed, with a bell attached to its collar. Even the accessories, such as the money mallet, the marble or crystal ball and the traditional Japanese gold coin called Koban, seem to be indicative of wealth and good luck.
This cat totem features a lot in Japanese folklore, which in turn abounds with tales and anecdotes regarding the origin of Maneki Neko. One such story is set in the Edo Period, in the Setagaya area of Tokyo, where now stands the enchanting Gotoku-ji Temple. The legend involves a rich feudal lord walking past the enshrinement, one day, on his way home to Edo. Just as he stopped to get some rest, he caught sight of a curious-looking cat that seemed to be beckoning to him.
So soon as he followed the cat into the temple, a bolt of lightning struck the tree under which he had been resting. As a way of paying tribute for having his life saved, the lord offered to sponsor the renovation of Gotoku-ji, and also named it his family temple.
Additionally, the Shobyodo temple, which is actually a cat shrine, was established inside the temple compound. Today hundreds of devotees visit the temple and bring with them Maneki Neko idols of various sizes, in the hope that their prayers come true.