Gotoku-ji Cemetary watercolor by Mister Kha
The legends surrounding Maneki Neko are many and varied. The bones of the old narratives appear placeable in history, but much that wraps them have their roots in Japanese folklore and tradition. (as well as occasional, simple, voracity)
The legend I prefer takes place during a dark and stormy night at a monastery near Edo, Japan (now Tokyo) in the year 1615.
Gotoku-ji temple was very poor. The monk had barely enough food for himself and a cat he had taken in, Tama, but he made do, tending the monastery and following his path as best he could.
After splitting a particularly meager meal, the monk said to Tama, “Your companionship means much to me, but I can not assure you a good meal. You should not starve with me, but find yourself a home worthy of your company.” The cat, of course, did not reply, but went to sit in a window of the temple as cats are wont to do.
Outside in the rain, Ii Naotaka, second son of Ii Naomasa, hereditary owner of Hikone Castle, was returning from the Battle of Tennōji. With the storm worsening, Ii Naotaka and his men took refuge beneath a tree. Looking around he saw the cat in the monastery window. It’s paw raised, the cat seemed to be beckoning the Daimyo to take shelter in the small temple. As he approached the monastery, lightening stabbed down and split the tree that he had just been standing beside. He surely would have been killed had he remained by the tree.
The urn purported to contain the ashes of Tama (Gotoku-ji Temple)
Welcomed in, Ii Naotaka found the old priest to be wise and kind and devoted to his path and his companion Tama. To repay the cat and priest for saving his life he became Gotoku-ji temple’s patron. When Tama died, the cat was given a place of honor in the temple cemetery, where many important members of the Ii family are also buried, and the first Maneki Neko statue was created in his memory.
Today, Gotoku-ji temple is still open for worship and attracts visitors from all over the world.
But the story of Maneki Neko is far from over. Read more of this post