Like all the best legends, the story surrounding Gotoku-ji temple is somewhat inconsistent. The common elements seem to be a waving cat, one or more gullible rich dudes and an over reaction to rain.
In one version, a feudal lord from Hikone in ancient Japan spotted a cat beckoning him into a temple. Following the suggestion of this furry commander, the lord was able to take shelter when a storm rolled in. Grateful that he was not subjected to an unexpected shower, the lord collected funds to rebuild the temple.
A slightly different version was handed to me at the temple shop. Here, the original dilapidated temple was home to a poor monk and his cat. Apparently feeling peeved he had to share his daily rations with his pet, the monk suggested the cat should bring fortune to the temple. The cat waved at a passing group of samurai warriors who were sufficiently weirded out to stop. The storm rolls in, forcing the men to hang about listening to the monk's sermons. One turned out to the Hikone rich dude and was sufficiently impressed that he donated lands to increase the wealth of the humble temple.
Whatever the exact details, the upshot was that waving cat figurines are now left at the temple as thanks for wishes come true. This has resulted in a sizable number of cat statues. And 'sizable number' is said in that British way of describing a typhoon as 'a bit wet'. There are bajillions.
The temple itself is large, with a three-tiered pagoda and graveyard. However, to one side is a shrine completely covered in small waving cats. Even the wooden prayer cards hung at temples were decorated with cats. The figurines are different sizes, but all identical: white porcelain cats with black and red features, lifting their right front paw in a wave or beckon. These are the "maneki neko": literally "beckoning cat". They are such a feature of this temple that even the local train has one of this locomotives decked out in pictures of maneki neko.
The cats can be bought at the temple shop on the other side of the site. I bought three of the most common size, one to represent my current cat, Tallis, one for the cat I grew up with, Scrabble, and one for the cat my Mum had as a child, Friskie. Strangely, I didn't see anyone else adding cats to the shrine so I surreptitiously slid my additions into the stone ledge. I consoled myself with the thought that if this was wrong, it was the most perfect crime in Japan as there was no way to differentiate between the hoards of maneki neko.
With one exception.
Stuffed into the stone plinths that should house lanterns was one maneki neko with a name scrawled on its white bib. It read "Katniss Everpurr: the living maneki neko". I hope this Katniss realises that Gotoku-ji is not about the last cat standing.