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Maneki-Neko, Japanese beckoning cats, are to be found in the shop windows of stores and restaurants in countless streets of any of Japan's major cities. If you take a look into the windows of noodle shops, eateries of all types, and stores, you will find the Maneki-Neko grinning somewhat impudently at you from the counter and inviting you into savor the produce of the establishment.

In business circles,the Maneki-Neko are believed to bring success-her raised paw is said to beckon in customers and welcome in personal happiness and harmony. A Black cat brings health,while a gold one, which is quite rare, is said to bring in riches.

Beckoning cats are often sold as money boxes and if kept at home they are supposed to beckon in good friends. They are part of an ancient tradition and are considered to be the incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy. In Japan cats are greatly admired for their good manners as well as for their independent nature.

The Maneki-Neko you see in the shop windows are made from a variety of materials : some are made from porcelain,others are constructed from papier mache, while inflatable plastic is often used to make the larger ones. They come in various sizes and colors and are even used by cocoon breeders to protect the silkworms against rats. Sometimes they are tied around a child's waist to protect them against pain or sickness.

There are a number of legends concerning the Japanese Beckoning Cats but there is some agreement that their origins go back at least three or four centuries to the Tokugawa and possibly the Oda Nobunaga dynasties.

Several stories about them relate to temples. There was reported to be a temple so poor the _Goroki-Ji Temple- it only had a single priest and a solitary cat. Times were very hard and ultimately,in absolute desparation,the priest requested the cat to assist in raising money for the temple.

The next day, the priest's cat went away, but a few days later a very wealthy family visited in order to bury their daughter who had recently passed away. The legend has it that the cat had mysteriously entered the soul of the dying girl and persuaded her to make her last wish that she be buried at the temple of the cat. Following the burial the cat returned to the priest, the wealthy family became generous benefactors of the temple, and the temple,the priest and the cat,never wanted for anything again.

The Goruki-Ji Temple now houses dozens of statues of this cat, and owners of sick or lost pets stick-up prayer boards with the image of the Beckoning Cat in this temple. The temple is not only a haven for pets, it even has its own pet cemetary.

The Beckoning Cats of Japan to this day remain a fascinating Japanese artifact with their roots in ancient Japanese culture and links to that most basic of human desires : the acquisition of wealth and prosperity.