The Maneki Neko ( 招き猫 = The Beckoning Cat ) is a Japanese cat sculpture, usually made of ceramic, which is believed to bring good fortune and wealth. If you come to Japan, you will be able to see Maneki Neko in shops, restaurants, pachinko, banks, offices, houses, etc. The Maneki Neko is also one of the famous souvenirs from Japan. You could also found Maneki Neko as piggy banks, keychains, straps, and other miscellaneous ornaments.
There are many stories regarding the origin of Maneki Neko. The three famous legends are the Goutokuji, Imado, and Yoshiwara.
Goutokuji Maneki Neko district
At the beginning of Edo period, there was a rundown temple in Setagaya. One day, a Japanese lord named Naotaka Ii ( 井伊直孝 1590 ~ 1659 ) was getting home from hunting hawk. He was walking in front of the temple when he noticed a white cat beckoning to him from inside the temple. Tempted by the cat's gesture, he followed the cat. As soon as he approached the cat, there was a sudden heavy rainfall and the place he stand before was struck by lighting. His life was saved by the white cat. The cat's name was Tama, and Tama was the temple priest's cat.
After it's death, Tama was buried at Goutokuji and the first Maneki Neko was made to honor Tama.
There is another version of the story which tells that Naotaka Ii was standing under the tree when a cat beckoned at him. When Naotaka was approaching the cat, the tree was struck by lighting. Feeling grateful, Naotaka gave a lot of donation to the temple.