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Hello Castle Kitty! Meet Hikonyan the castle cat

This story first appeared in Escape

On the shore of Japan’s largest lake there’s a crowd-pleasing cat with all the right moves. As I don’t speak Japanese I have no idea what the man on stage is excitedly trying to tell us, but everyone who can understand him looks thrilled. I consider asking our guide what’s going on but as every head swivels in the same direction there’s suddenly no need.

Strutting down the side of the castle’s museum is a large white mascot cat with a samurai helmet, and I am hit with a burst of pure joy.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t even heard of Hikonyan until that very morning I am almost squealing with delight as he does various poses. Somehow every move he makes is adorable, from the way he holds the bell around his neck right down to the somewhat awkward pose that suggests he’s wondering where the kitty litter is.

Read: Visiting the Burmese cat village at Inle Lake, Myanmar

With a name that combines Hikone and “nyan”, the Japanese onomatopoeic take on a cat’s meow, Hikonyan was created in 2007 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Hikone Castle.

Based on the white cat that is said to have saved Ii Naotaka, the 3rd Lord of Hikone, from a lightning strike by beckoning him into a temple, Hikonyan shares his origins story with maneki-neko, the waving “lucky’’ cats so often seen in Japanese and Chinese shops and restaurants around the world.

It could be argued Hikonyan is a pretty lucky cat for business too. When he first appeared in 2007 visitor numbers to Hikone Castle jumped from an average 500,000 visitors to 849,000, and ¥17 billion (about $200 million) was spent on Hikonyan products in that year alone. Since then he’s been credited with an economic ripple effect worth more than ¥338 billion

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Hanging with Hikonyan the Castle Cat at Lake Biwa, Japan

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