The image of Maneki-neko (the Japanese lucky cat) is famous around the world. There are actually two types. One with the left had raised which brings in customers to a store of restaurant and one with the right hand raised which brings good luck and wealth. To Western people it appears as though the cat is waving. It is, however, beckoning as beckoning someone in Japan is done with the palm facing the person, almost in a waving action, whereas in the west, we beckon people with our palm facing up.
There are many stories as to the origin of the beckoning cat, and the one that I was told, and continue to tell others goes like this.
A long time ago there was a temple that was nothing more than a simple hut. The Monk who inhabited the temple was very poor and just survived on his small income. He owned a cat and looked after it like it was his child often sharing his simple meal with the cat. He said to the cat one day "If you are grateful to me, bring some fortune to the Temple".
A few months later a group of samurai were passing the Temple and noticed the cat in front of the temple with it's right hand raised beckoning them. They left their horses and walked over for a closer look. At this point the Monk came out and the samurai told him what the cat had done and that it caused them to stop and come over to ask if they could rest at the Temple.
The Monk brought them inside and served them tea. Suddenly a storm started outside and the samurai were grateful for the shelter and the tea. The Monk preached to them while the storm raged outside. The group of samurai were so happy and started to think about converting to the Temple. One of them said "I am Naotaka Ii, the Lord of Hikone. Because your cat beckoned us in, we were able to hear your preaching. This has opened our eyes and it must be Buddha's will".
Soon after the samurai returned home they donated large rice fields and farm land to the Temple which made the Temple as grand as it is today. Not long after the cat died, the Maneki-neko statue was established so that everyone could remember what had happened.
A great story that explains an image that is very well known.
Yesterday I was talking to my brother, Matty, about his upcoming visit to Japan and we were looking for places online for him to stay. One place we were looking at was in an area of Tokyo called Gotokuji. I did a google image search to see what the area looked like and was stunned to see what appeared. A little bit of research later and I realised that I had found the Temple in which the above story takes place. This required a visit to the Temple to have a look.
The Temple is located in Gotokuji in suburban Tokyo on the Odakyu train line. It is a nice little suburb with the usual look of an old quiet little neighbourhood.
Little restaurants lining the streets,
and some bigger ones too.
Lovely little residential streets
and shops of all shapes, sizes and varieties.
It looks like a regular little residential suburb, nice, quiet and normal unless you walk about 10 minutes south of the train station. That's where you will find Gotokuji Temple.
Those of you who often read my blog (and thank you for doing so!) will know that I like temples and shrines. The peaceful and relaxed atmosphere they bring is in stark contrast to daily life in Tokyo. Many Tokyo office workers will sometimes take their lunch to places like temples, shrines and gardens like Hama Rikyu Garden to relax and de-stress for an hour or so.
I love the interesting statues scattered around the grounds,
and these bells, when they are rung, just make for a totally Zen experience. There is nothing else quite like being inside a temple grounds amongst the beauty of their manicured gardens with the bell tolling every so often.
And speaking of the manicured gardens, it just happens to be Autumn in Japan at the moment which adds incredible colour to the already beautiful gardens!
"But the cats Jason, what about the cats?" I hear you asking. Yes, the cats. Walking around one corner of the temple,
and what I was confronted with left me absolutely stunned (as we would say in Australia, I looked like a stunned mullet) and amazed!
hundreds of cats,
maybe thousands of cats,
it may have even been millions of cats, I'm not sure
because I sure couldn't count them all!
And I wouldn't want to be the person that did!
While you are at the temple, make sure you visit the temple shop where you can buy various sized cat figurines to take home along with an English explanation of the story behind the cat.
I hope you enjoyed that post. Visiting the temple and seeing all of those cats and the beautiful gardens was a great way to spend an afternoon.
Thanks again for reading, and see you soon.