Since old times, cats had been kept at home in Japan to get rid of rats that gave damage to crops. And in about 18th century, cats had come on the scene as “Maneki Neko,” a cat doll that brings good luck. In today’s Japan, Maneki Neko is frequently found sitting near the entrance of shops. Shop owners put it there wishing for prosperity in business. There are interesting legends about the origin of Maneki Neko.
In the Edo Period, when the feudal lord of Hikone walked by a temple in Edo on his way home from falconry, the temple’s cat was beckoning to the lord in front of the temple gate. So he stopped by at the temple and had some rest. Just then, the clouds covered the sky all the sudden and a severe thunderstorm arrived. Not getting wet, the lord was so glad that he made a lot of donation to re-build the poverty-stricken temple. And he designated this temple as his family temple. This temple is Gotokuji Temple which still exists in Tokyo. When the cat died, Shobyodo temple (beckoning cat temple) was built in the temple’s ground and the cat has become a god called Shobyo Kannon. Visitors to the temple started to offer Maneki Neko, a cat doll to show their gratitude when their wish came true.
In Hikone where the castle of the feudal lord is, Hiko-nyan has born as the mascot for the 400th anniversary of Hikonejo Castle. It is said that Hiko-nyan is modeled after the Gotokuji Temple’s cat.
Prefecture Hiko-nyan Hikone City permit (free) No.1120098
There is another legend in Edo (Tokyo). An old woman was forced to let go of her dear cat due to extreme poverty. And she let the cat go in Imado Shrine. That night the cat appeared in her dream and said, “You will be happy if you make a doll in the image of me.” So she made ceramic dolls in the image of her cat and sold them to see what happens. Soon after, the dolls became popular and that made the old woman happy. Today, a pair of female and male Maneki Neko sitting close together in Imado Shrine has become famous. And the shrine is popular among young women as a shrine of “Enmusubi (tying the knot)” that helps to get married. At the shrine a big beckoning cat welcomes the visitors.
There are a number of folk tales in Japan that animals such as dog, fox, rabbit and crow show people a way to happiness. As it tells, Japanese have been creating stories and lucky charms in their life using their creativity to wish their happiness. A wide variety of Maneki Neko is sold at souvenir shops in popular tourist sites such as Asakusa. There are whine ones, black ones, ones holding coins etc. How about getting one for yourself?
2-24-7, Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Get off at Odakyu Electric Railway “Gotokuji” Station from Shinjuku, and 5-min walk
Get off at Tokyu Setagaya Line “Miyanosaka” Station from Sangenjaya, and right outside the station
1-5-22, Imado, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Get off at Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Asakusa Line or Tobu Isesaki Line “Asakusa” Station, and 15-min walk