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5 Facts About Japan’s Famous “Maneki Neko,” the Lucky Cat


Happy Maneki Nekko Day!

Japan sets aside one day every year to celebrate on of their most iconic characters, maneki nekko! Today, September 29th, is Maneki Neko Day!

Maneki neko at Gotokuji Temple.  Photo credit: www.tofugu.com

Maneki neko at Gotokuji Temple.
Photo credit: www.tofugu.com

This adorable little cat is usually placed at the entrance of restaurants and various businesses throughout both China and Japan. Their presence is thought to bring good luck and fortune. Celebrate the holiday by learning more about this lucky feline.

Paws UP!

Next time you see one of these cute little talismans, take note which paw is raised. Right is thought to invite good fortune and wealth. If the left paw is raised, the cat is supposed to attract customers (don’t they usually bring money anyway?) Interestingly, if both paws are up, the Fortune Cat is offering protection.

Gold maneki neko sits outside a Japanese shop.  Photocredit: shutterstock.com

Gold maneki neko sits outside a Japanese shop.
Photocredit: shutterstock.com

What’s more, the higher the paw is raised, the more lucky the cat is thought to be. Nevertheless, many westerners view the cat as waving, perhaps saying “hello!” However, in eastern cultures, this gesture represents beckoning and welcoming.

Colorful Cats

The original Maneki Neko is typically orange with black spots however, different variations can be found in shops across Asia. Of course, these colors have different meanings. Let’s brush up on our symbolism.

Maneki neko can be found in many meaningful colors.  Photo credit: catster.com

Maneki neko can be found in many meaningful colors.
Photo credit: catster.com

Gold: Financial security and prosperity

Black: To keep away evil spirits and bad energy

Red: For love and healthy relationships

Green: To live a healthy life

Calico: Traditional color combination, lucky

White: Positivity and Happiness

An Edo Period Tradition

The first Fortune Cat popped up in Japan around the time of the Edo period (1600-1850s). The earliest record of a maneki neko statue in Japan came from “Bukō nenpyō’s” (a chronology of Edo) entry dated 1852.

The first maneki neko cats were carved from stone.  Photo credit: pinterest.com

The first maneki neko cats were carved from stone.
Photo credit: pinterest.com

While the exact origins of this fancy feline are unknown, there are several folktales that may have helped create the character. The earliest inspiration for maneki neko may have come from a Chinese author, Duan Chengshi (803?-863), who wrote: “If a cat raises its paw over the ears and washes its face, then patrons will come.”

Fortune in Folklore

One of the most gruesome tales about the origin of the Maneki Neko tells the tale of a geisha who had a pet cat. She loved this cat with all her heart. One day, the geisha had a visitor. At that time, the cat began to claw at the woman’s kimono. The visitor thought the cat was attacking the woman so he took his sword and swiftly cut off the cat’s head. The cat’s head flew through the air and landed, teeth first, into a snake that was preparing to strike the woman. The visitors violent act actually saved the woman’s life. However, the man felt bad and commissioned a craftsman to carve a wooden cat with it’s hand raised as a gift for the geisha. Finally, she was overjoyed by the gift and soon forgave the man.

A geisha and her cat.  Photo credit: catnewstip.blogspot.com

A geisha and her cat.
Photo credit: catnewstip.blogspot.com

Then there is, of course, the tale of the old woman in Tokyo. This woman was so poor she was forced to sell her beloved pet cat. After selling her pet, the cat then came to her in a dream and urged her to make his image out of clay. The woman made the statue and sold it. The statues soon became very popular and the woman very wealthy.

Another folktale tells the story of an impoverished shop owner who generously took in a starving cat. As a symbol of gratitude, the cat began to beckon customers into the struggling shop. Eventually, this cat brought prosperity to the old shop owner.

The Cat’s Possessions

Most Maneki Neko statues feature the cat wearing a bell, a bib, and a collar. Occasionally these cats may also hold a gold coin or even a fish. What’s more, Many Edo period cat owners would affix a bell to their cats. This was a safety precaution so they would not lose their pets.

new-opening-font-b-maneki-b-font-font-b-neko-b-font-ceramic-golden-lucky-font

The wealthiest of households would also dress their cats with a bib, a collar, and a bell. See a theme here? Basically, Maneki Neko is all about that pretty penny, or as they would have called it, the ryo. For this reason, Maneki Nekko were often made into coin banks, much like the western “piggy bank.”

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