The legend of the Maneki-Neko has its origins in Japan, at a temple in
Setagaya called Gotokuji. A samurai, Lord Ii, was beckoned by the cat.
As he walked forward to where the cat was, a bolt of lightning hit the
ground where he had been. Thankful that the cat had thus saved his life,
he became a patron of this temple. This story states that the cat was in
fact Kannon, the deity of compassion, in disguise, and nowadays the temple
enshrines the maneki neko alongside Kannon, who is termed shofuku
(Prosperity beckoning) Kannon.
Another legend is connected with a temple in Kyoto called Shonenji,
more commonly known as Nekodera, (Cat temple). The story states that
the kindly priest had no money but looked after a cat. One day he
asked the cat why he did not try to help the temple in some way. The
cat disappeared that night. The next day, two retainers of the richest
family in the area came to the temple and said that their lord's
daughter had died in the night. On her deathbed, she had asked to
be buried at Shonenji. It transpired that the cat had magically
entered her soul as she lay dying, and had put in an advertisement,
as it were, for his master's temple. As a result, the temple came
under the protection of the rich family and is known to this day
as a haven for pets, with its own pet cemetery.