This is the legend of the Maneki Neko. In the 17th century, there was a rundown and poverty-stricken temple in Tokyo. The temple's priest was very poor but he shared whatever 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, he noticed a cat beckoning him to come inside the temple gate. This was so startling that he left the shelter of the tree to have a closer look at this unusual cat. At that moment, the tree was struck by lightening. 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.
In Japan cats have been considered wise and lucky spirits. Beckoning cats or welcome cats are believed to bring good luck and fortune to their owners. In the design of the sculptures, a raised left paw supposedly attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it.