At the beginning of Edo period (17th century), there was a rundown temple in Setagaya, the western part of Tokyo. The priest of the temple kept a pet cat, named Tama, and he though he was very poor, he always was sure to feed Tama first.
One day, Naotaka Ii who was the lord of Hikone district (western part of Japan near Kyoto) was caught in a shower near the temple on his way home from hunting. While avoiding the rain under a big tree in front of the temple, Naotaka noticed that a cat was inviting him into the temple gate. And as soon as he left the tree tempted by the cat’s gesture, the tree was struck by lighting. Naotaka’s life was saved by the cat which was proved to be Tama.
By the incident, Naotaka became closer to the priest of the temple. The rundown temple was appointed to be the Ii’s family temple, and changed it’s name to Goutokuji. Goutokuji became prosperous. Tama saved Naotaka from lighting, and saved the temple from it’s poverty at the same time.
After it’s death, Tama was buried at Goutokuji’s cat cemetery with all due respect, and Maneki Neko was invented to honor Tama.
There are different kinds of Maneki Neko. One raises its left paw; the legend specifies that the one with its left paw up invited customers or people. The other raises its right paw; the legend specifies that the one with its right paw up invited money or good fortune.