Maneki Neko Museum of Art 招き猫美術館, 岡山
Clinging to the steep slope of a remote mountain village north of Okayama city is the Manekineko Art Museum, dedicated to the maneki neko, "beckoning cat" or "lucky cat", and for thousands of fans of all ages of kawaii and cats the place is a veritable mecca.
The manekineko figurine originated in the mid-19th century in either Edo (Tokyo) or Kyoto. One paw (either left or right), is raised, or sometimes both paws, in what appears to be a wave, but in Japanese body language the gesture is one of beckoning.
Many modern battery-operated or solar-powered maneki neko versions have a moving arm.
The manekineko also has associations with good luck and some versions have the cat holding a gold coin or koban - a symbol of wealth popular with businesses all over Asia.
The Maneki Neko Museum of Art now has over 700 of the figurines of all sizes and colors, though white, black, or red are the most common.
Some are made of paper, some clay, some, wood, and some stone. To house the expanding collection in 2015 the main exhibition space was moved in to an adjacent 100 year old farmhouse that has been tastefully renovated.
The original building is now called the Luck Cat House. There is a workshop area where, for a fee, visitors can paint their own, unique figurine and take with them, and a "shrine" area. There is also a gift shop selling a variety of manekineko products and figurines.
Maneki Neko Museum of Art
865-1 Kanayamaji, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama 701-2151
Tel: 0862 28 3301
Open from 10am-5pm, closed Wednesdays and over the New Year.
Entry is 600 yen for adults, 300 yen for under 15's.
There is no public transport to the museum so a car is needed. The closest station is Bizen-Hara on the JR Tsuyama Line. From there it is a 9 minute taxi ride. Or a 20 minute taxi ride from Okayama Station.
Kinzanji Temple 金山寺
As you are driving up the narrow valley near to the museum you may be surprised, as I was, to see a pagoda rising from the hillside.
A short detour will take you to Kinzanji, once a big and important Tendai-sect temple founded in 749. The impressive main gate is held up by a scaffolding of wood.
The priests' quarters look dilapidated, and where the great main hall once stood is just a grid of foundation stones. It burned down in 2012, but behind it on the hillside is a three storey pagoda dating from 1788.
You may be forgiven for thinking that this is an abandoned temple, but if you were to come on the evening of the first Saturday in February you will find hundreds of almost naked men and boys in a writing mass grappling for a lucky stick, for this is the site of a Hadaka Matsuri, commonly referred to as a "naked festival".
The most famous one is south of here at Saidaijikannon-in Temple east of Okayama city where the festival originated. This one is not as big, but consequently less swamped with tourists.
481 Kanayamaji, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi
Tel: 0862 28 0926
Access - how to get to Okayama
Okayama Station is served by the Sanyo Shinkansen line to Osaka (45 minutes), Tokyo (4 hours), Kyoto (1 hour 10 minutes), Nagoya and Fukuoka/Hakata (2 hours). The JR Hakubi Line connects Okayama and Yonago on the Japan Sea coast in Tottori Prefecture.
Okayama Station is a highway bus terminus for buses to various destinations in the Chugoku region. and beyond. There are long-distance buses to Tokyo (Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Bus Station, Hamamatsucho), Kansai International Airport (KIX), Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Kobe, Kochi, Kyoto Station, Osaka, Nagoya Station, Nagasaki (with a change in Fukuoka), Matsue, Matsuyama, Izumo, Tokushima and Yonago.
Local buses also radiate out from Okayama Station.
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