The Maneki Neko became popular in Japan during the latter half of the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) as a symbol of good luck and fortune. To this day maneki neko are placed in businesses and homes to bring good luck and fortune.
There are several legends about the origins of the maneki neko. The most popular legend tells the story of a rundown and poverty-stricken temple in Setagaya, in the western part of Tokyo during the 17th century. The temple's priest was very poor, but he shared what little food he had with his pet cat, Tama. One day, a wealthy and important man was caught in a storm while hunting and he took refuge under a big tree near the temple. While he waited for the storm to pass, the man noticed a cat beckoning him to come inside the temple gate.
This was so startling he left the shelter of the tree to have a closer look at this unusual cat. At that moment, the tree was struck by lighting. As a result, the wealthy man became friends with the poor priest, and the temple became prosperous. The priest and his cat never went hungry again. When Tama died he was buried in the Goutokuji Temple's cat cemetery with respect and love, and the Maneki Neko was made in honor of him.