Friday, July 8, 2011

Tama, the Original Maneki Neko

In the 17th century, at the beginning of Edo period, there was a rundown temple in Setagaya, in the western part of Tokyo. 

The priest of the temple kept a pet cat, whose name was Tama.  Though the priest was very poor, he always made sure that Tama had something to eat.

One day, Naotaka Ii who was the lord of Hikone district, was riding home from a hunt when he was caught in a sudden rain  shower.  He sought shelter beneath a big tree in front of the temple.

While he stood beneath the tree, Naotaka noticed that the cat seemed to be inviting him into the temple.

The tree was not offering all that much in the way of shelter, so Naotaka hurried from beneath the branches to the temple gates.

No sooner had he left the tree than the tree was struck by lightning.  Naotaka's life had been saved by the cat, who was, of course, Tama.

After his near-brush with death, Naotaka and the temple priest grew close.  Naotaka chose the temple to be the family temple for the Ii family, and its name was changed to Goutokuji.  Goutokuji became prosperous. So Tama not only saved Naotaka Ii; he saved the temple.

After his death, Tama was buried at Goutokuji's cat cemetery and Maneki Nekos were invented to honor Tama.

There are different kinds of Maneki Nekos. It is said that one with the left paw raised invites customers to a  place of business.  One with the right paw raised invites good fortune.  Both paws, logically, invite both.

Maneki neko charms and earrings can be found here.

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