The Gōtoku-ji temple in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, is the temple of the original maneki neko (beckoning cat). Legend has it, that in this temple a monk was looking after a stray cat, spending his time and food to feed and care for it. His superior was annoyed by this, saying, “Why do you care so much for this stray animal? There is no use (and profit) to waste one’s time for a cat!”
While cats nowadays are considered to be very kawaii (cute) in Japan, their character is seen less favorable. Unlike dogs, cats are seen as illoyal, shifty and devious… For example, there is not one Japanese family name that has the 猫 (cat) kanji in it. So a cat would not be seen as proper company for monk. However, the monk in this legend kept the cat and the cat was always around at the temple, which was just one of many small, poor Buddhist temples at that time.
One night the mighty feudal lord Ii Naotaka was traveling close to the temple in a dark and stormy night. He and his entourage sought shelter under a tree, hoping the terrible thunderstorm would soon pass. As he spied into the night, he saw in the distance a white cat beckoning him with its paw. Curiously he went out into the storm to the cat and discovered the Gōtoku-ji temple he had not seen before. Just as he arrived at the temple, a lightning struck the tree under which he had sought shelter before. He realized that if it hadn’t been for the cat he would have been killed.
After that, he gave a large donation to the temple, making everyone around happy and turning the small
Gōtoku-ji temple into one of the most prosperous and largest places of worship in the area. Since that time, cats have been considered wise and lucky spirits (in addition to all the negative things connected to them).
When I visited the location, the main temple building was already closed. But I checked out the votive tablets with prayers and the shelf were visitors place maneki nekos that can be bought at the temple office. Having recently lost my cat to myocardiopathy, it was heartbreaking to read all the ema on which people put prayers for the health and long life of their cats.