Maneki Neko Fortune Cat Goes West

Updated on February 6, 2018
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Avorodisa writes to her pleasure and always will. She is a native Russian speaker who adores English.

Maneki Neko statuette.
Maneki Neko statuette.

Meet Another Lucky Feng Shui Animal From Japan

You have probably noticed that in many Asian shops and restaurants a cat with a raised paw sits facing the street. It is Maneki Neko, a Japanese fortune cat and a Feng Shui symbol of good luck.

Can Maneki Neko really bring good luck? And what kind of luck?

Maneki Neko literally means “beckoning cat” and is a ceramic or china statuette with a raised paw. It is placed in front of a shop, a playing hall, restaurants and firms. According to legend, the right uplifted paw is supposed to bring good luck, while the left waving paw will bring you more clients. Sometimes, both paws are waving.

Japanese bobtail is a cat breed that inspired Maneki Neko.
Japanese bobtail is a cat breed that inspired Maneki Neko.

Maneki Neko and Its Types

You might encounter Maneki Neko in a variety of forms and adjustments. They can be attached to key chains or even represent an air freshener bottle.

Their prototype is the cat breed called Japanese bobtail.

In Europe, most think that it is waving at us rather than inviting us to come closer and perform an action. The fact is, the usage of gestures differs in Europe and Asia. When the Japanese invite someone, they would raise their hand, palm turned outside, and close and open it until they attract attention, just like the Maneki Neko. Europeans would do the same thing, but with their palm facing them. Sometimes, manufacturers produce Maneki Neko in a European manner with the palm turned inside.

The symbolism of the uplifted right and left paws is very relative, because they interpret it differently in different parts of Japan. Moreover, the meaning of the raised paws changes with time, so Maneki Neko with two raised paws are an excellent compromise. It is also believed that the higher the paw is raised, the more luck it brings.

Maneki Neko statuettes are colored in various ways. But the traditional colors for the “luck-catching cats” were white, black and orange. This is the usual color combination of a Japanese bobtail and is considered the luckiest, often called “mike” which means “three furs”.

The colors of Maneki Neko have different meanings.
The colors of Maneki Neko have different meanings.

Along with classical colors, other colors are also popular:

  • White means purity and is the second most popular color.
  • Black, according to superstitions, scares evil away. It is especially popular with women who want to protect themselves from unwanted followers.
  • Red is a protective color which chases away evil spirits and illnesses.
  • Gold refers to wealth.
  • Pink is not the most traditional color, but it has gained popularity and is associated with love.

The higher the paw is raised, the more wealth, luck and prosperity Maneki Neko will bring you. The coin attracts wealth.
The higher the paw is raised, the more wealth, luck and prosperity Maneki Neko will bring you. The coin attracts wealth.

Would you take Maneki Neko home?

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Maneki Neko and Its Attributes

Just like any civilized cat, Maneki Neko has a collar which is normally adorned with bells. This symbolism dates back to Edo epoch (17th century), when pet cats wore collars like these. The bells helped owners detect and find the cat if it got lost.

Very often, Maneki Neko also has a bib. The bib was worn by a god that protected sick and dying children, as well as travelers. When a child got better, the parents in gratitude adorned the statue of a god with a bib. Later on, Maneki Neko served the same purpose.

Sometimes Maneki Neko holds a coin in its paw. This coin, called koban, was popular during the Edo epoch and was worth 1000 dollars. The coin is what allows Maneki Neko to attract good luck and wealth. A Maneki Neko holding a coin is often used as a moneybox, and this function has become very popular in Western countries.

How Old Is Maneki Neko?

It is believed that Maneki Neko appeared during the Edo epoch (1603-1867), but it was first officially mentioned in 1876 when news about it was spread in a newspaper. According to one theory, Maneki Neko replaced an obscene symbol that invited visitors in houses of courtesans in pleasure districts.

Maneki Neko on a bridge in Japan.
Maneki Neko on a bridge in Japan.

Three Stories About the Origin of the Symbol

A Cat From a Temple

The story takes place near a temple during a storm. A noble person went by a temple where an abbot lived and saw a cat that invited him inside. He followed the cat. Shortly after, the tree which the rich man stood beside was struck by the lightning. The man made friends with the abbot and became his patron. When the latter died, a stone statue was put up in his honour.

A Courtesan Story

One courtesan whose name was Usugumo and who lived in the Eastern Tokyo, in Yoshiwara district, had a favorite cat. One day, the cat began to pull on her kimono. Whatever she did, the cat kept pulling. The owner of the pleasure house saw this and decided that the cat was under a spell. He ordered the cat’s head to be chopped off. As the cat’s head jumped off the body, it rushed to the ceiling and killed the snake that sat there. Usugumo was upset about the cat’s death. To cheer her up, one client offered a wooden cat to the woman. This cat became the popular Maneki Neko.

A Story of an Old Woman

An old woman who who lived in Imado had to sell her cat. That night, she had a dream about her cat. The cat told her to make his statuette out of clay. The woman obeyed and did everything she was told. She even made several statuettes that soon became popular among people, and so she got wealthy.

Hello Kitty overdone!
Hello Kitty overdone!

The Image of Maneki Neko in Modern Culture

Truly, the image of Maneki Neko has had a great impact on modern culture in Japan, but also in other places. In particular, it formed the “Hello, kitty!” character. Also, in one of the Pokémon toys called “Gambare” or “Goraemon,” Maneki Neko is an artifact of increasing force. Furthermore, Bruce Sterling wrote a book called Maneki Neko, in which the gesture of the paw is the symbol of secret trade within a network based on artificial intelligence.

The Legend of Maneki Neko

© 2012 Anna Sidorova


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    • avorodisa profile imageAUTHOR

      Anna Sidorova 

      8 years ago from Russia

      Sounds like magic or a coincidence... You are welcome! And thanks for reading.. It was fun writing:)

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Would you believe it, only last week my daughter and I were discussing these little cat statues in oriental restaurants. She is into Hello kitty and we were wondering if there was a link! Mystery solved. Thanks for an informative & interesting hub. voted up and across!


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