A white kitty saved a poor Buddhist temple from ruin in the early Edo Period. That is the story behind Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya city, known as a home of “Manekineko” or beckoning cat. In Japan, the cat figurines are often seen at the entrances of restaurants and shops because they are believed to bring luck, money and customers. But it is overwhelming that hundreds of “Manekineko” welcome visitors of the temple in a quiet residential area.
There are many folktales about the origin of “Manekineko.” Although the story of Gotokuji Temple is just one of them, the temple is very serious about cats. It has a small temple that enshrines the deity of “Manekineko.” Beside the place, there are shelves for the cat figurines to be dedicated by people as a sign of gratitude when their wishes are fulfilled. The three-story pagoda built in 2006 has the statue of the deity and carved decorations of cats.
Here is the story dating back to the early 1600s. A samurai walked by the predecessor of Gotokuji Temple. He saw the temple’s pet cat beckon to him in front of its gate and decided to take a rest there. Soon after being served by the chief priest, clouds covered the sky and a thunderstorm arrived. This samurai happened to be Naotaka Ii, the feudal lord that owned the Setagaya area. Naotaka was so impressed that he gave a lot of donations to the poverty-stricken temple and made it his family temple. The name Gotokuji comes from Naotaka’s Buddhist name. After the cat died, the “Manekineko” temple was built there.
Gotokuji Temple’s “Manekineko” looks graceful with its pure white color and doesn’t have such attachments as “koban” gold coins. It raises its right paw as left hands are considered unclean in the ethics of the samurai society. It is generally believed that those raising their right paws bring luck and money, and those raising their left paws bring people. The temple sells eight different sizes of “Manekineko” at prices ranging from 300 yen to 5,000 yen.
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