The Legendary Tale of a Cat’s loyalty to the Samurai Master at Tenjuin Temple
Step aside, Hachiko! Yamaguchi’s Cat Temple offers a samurai tale of feline fealty.
Every traveling guidebook for Japan mentions Hachiko. He was the dog who patiently waited every day for nine years in the 1920s and ‘30s in front of Shibuya Station for his master to come home. Hachiko never knew that the man had passed away at the office. It’s a touching story of devotion, and one so well-known, Hachiko now has his own statue near his waiting spot.
However, some argue Hachiko didn’t come to the station every day because he hoped for his master to return. But, because of the free handouts of food. The fact is that he became a local celebrity. Could it be that the friendly pooch actually isn’t the epitome of animal-human loyalty?
The Cat and The Samurai Master at Tenjuin Temple
Maybe that title would be a better fit for a cat that lived hundreds of years before Hachiko. The Cat in question was humbly born and displayed such fealty to its samurai master that its entire species is honored at their own Cat Temple.
We’ll have to head out of Tokyo to get to this monument to kitty compassion, though, as it lies in the town of Hagi in west Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hagi has several historical and cultural attractions, including a ruined castle and preserved samurai quarter. However, we’ll be skipping those and going straight to Unrinji, also known as Nekodera, or the Cat Temple.
While Unrinji’s amaryllis flowers also attract visitors, the temple is best known for its cat statues and carvings.
The history of Unrinji is actually connected to that of the Mori samurai clan, which made Hagi Castle it is base of power.
When Lord Mori Terumoto passed away, his retainer Nagai Motofusa was so distraught that he committed ritual suicide to join his master in the afterlife.
However, this extreme act of fealty left Nagai’s cherished pet cat with no one to care for it. The samurai’s sense of loyalty seems to have rubbed off the animal. The Cat adopted the Bushido Code and for the next 49 days, the Cat refused to leave its late master’s grave at Tenjuin Temple.
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Cat’s Loyalty and Grief
Eventually, the poor creature succumbed to its grief and bit down on its tongue, taking its own life just as its owner had when he lost his own master.
The Legend says that on that night, the other neighborhood cats cried out in sadness and despair. The priest of Tenjuin was filled with pity hearing the lament of the poor felines. He performed a memorial service to put the dead animal’s spirit at peace. It is said that after the ceremony, the yowling of the neighborhood cats immediately stopped.
Tenjin Temple is no longer standing, but its religious reverence for cats continues at the nearby Unrinji temple. Even the temple’s good-luck amulets are shaped like cats, and its ema wish boards are painted with a variety of cute feline faces.
The next time your dog-loving friends continue gushing about their dog’s loyalty before their pooch runs off to chase a squirrel, just nod politely. Be assured that some cats are totally committed to their owners and the code of bushido as well.
Source: Japanee Mythology
Unrinji / 雲林寺
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Hagi-shi, Kibekami 2489
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