9 Things You Didn’t Know About Maneki-Neko or Lucky Cats

The Maneki-Neko, also known as the lucky cat or fortune cat, is a figurine depicting a cat that is believed to bring good luck to its owners. It is typically found displayed in stores and restaurants and is quite popular among Chinese business owners.

You can easily recognize it with its cat features with one of its paw raised (which is sometimes moving depending on the design). A lot of people find it adorable but only a few really know much about it.

The Maneki-Neko, also known as the lucky cat or fortune cat, is a figurine depicting a cat that is believed to bring good luck to its owners. It is typically found displayed in stores and restaurants and is quite popular among Chinese business owners.

Maneki-Neko cat

You can easily recognize it with its cat features with one of its paw raised (which is sometimes moving depending on the design). A lot of people find it adorable but only a few really know much about it.

Here are 9 things that you probably didn’t know about the Maneki-Neko:

Its Name Literally Means “Beckoning Cat”

Maneki-Neko literally translates to “beckoning cat” or invitation cat. It portrays a cat seemingly inviting the observer with a beckoning gesture using its paw. This gesture is somewhat culture-bound because the depiction of the Maneki-Neko’s paw (as a form of body language) may be interpreted differently (usually as a hand wave) by some western cultures.

It is also known by other names such as money cat, Chinese lucky cat, and welcoming cat; although these are not as commonly used.

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There are Several Legends Surrounding it

Accounts of the origin of the Maneki-Neko estimate it to have existed since the Japanese Edo period (1603 – 1867) and first appearing in a Japanese newspaper in 1876.

There are different legends regarding its origin. The first one is the story of a wealthy man who temporarily resided under a tree due to a thunderstorm. The wealthy man then noticed a cat seemingly inviting him towards a temple nearby.

He decided to follow the cat towards the temple but suddenly, the tree he was residing under was struck by a lightning. He realized that the cat who called him actually saved his life because he would have been struck by the lightning together with the tree.

He became so grateful that he decided to be a patron of the temple and donated a lot of his wealth to it. Because of his great contribution, a statue of the cat was made in his honor upon his death.

Another legend is about an old woman who had to sell her cat because she can no longer feed it and herself due to poverty.

One night, she dreamed of her cat telling her to make a statue based on her cat’s image using clay. She did everything that the cat in her dream told her and eventually sold the statue. She continued on making and selling statues which eventually led her to become rich and famous.

The last legend is somewhat bizarre (and very unlikely) and is known as the courtesan story. A courtesan named Usugumo living in Yoshiwara, Japan, owned a cat. One day, the cat began pulling her kimono for no apparent reason. She did all she could but the cat would not stop pulling.

It was seen by the brothel’s owner and thought the cat was under a spell so he cut off the cat’s head with a sword. The impact was so strong that the cat’s head flew off to the ceiling and hit a snake in the ceiling. The snake was about to strike but was killed first thanks to the cat’s head.

The courtesan became very devastated with the loss of her cat. A customer noticed her and made her a wooden figure of her cat to cheer her up. This cat figure eventually became known as the Maneki-Neko.

Different Colors Have Different Meanings

The Maneki-Neko is believed to have a unique effect based on its color:

  • Black drives away evil spirits and prevents them from coming near.
  • Calico is the traditional design and the most commonly used. It is for general luck.
  • Gold is for inviting wealth and prosperity.
  • Green is for good health and maintenance.
  • Red provides success in love and relationships.
  • White is for happiness and a positive outlook in life.

Even its Accessories Have Their Meanings

Aside from its color, the Maneki-Neko also has meanings attributed to the different objects it holds. A fish (usually a carp) symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. A held gem or marble may symbolize wisdom and prosperity.

A held Japanese oval gold coin (also known as Koban from the Edo period) also means good fortune. The same goes with a small hammer or sometimes called “magic money mallet”.

There are also a lot of other items that the Maneki-Neko may be seen holding, but they all generally represent the same ideas: wealth, prosperity, and good fortune.

There is a Difference in Which Paw is Raised

The whole figure of Maneki-Neko is really full of symbolism. Some even claim that the higher the raised paw is, the more it attracts fortune and good luck. Whether the raised paw is left or right also bears distinct meanings for the owner.

If the right paw is raised, it serves as an invitation to good fortune and prosperity. But if the left paw is raised, its purpose is to attract a lot of customers. There are also other figures that have both paws raised which are said to bring protection for your home or business.

It is Usually Mistaken as Originating from the Chinese

As we have mentioned earlier, the Maneki-Neko originated in Japan. But since a lot of Chinese merchants throughout history have been accustomed to using one in their businesses, a lot of people mistake it to be of Chinese origin. Its popularity to Chinese culture resulted in their own adopted name for it: Chinese lucky cat.

tons of small dolls known as maneki neko in japana

There is a “Beckoning Cat” Day

A “Beckoning Cat” day is celebrated every 29th of September (not to be confused with the international cat day every 8th of August). The date of celebration isn’t really based on its history. It is more of a result of Goroawase (a Japanese wordplay of homophonous words).

The date “September 29” can be read in Japanese as Ku-fu-ku (9, 2 and 9) which can also be translated to words as Ku(ru) Fuku or “coming luck”; hence, “coming luck” day is celebrated as “Beckoning Cat” day.

It is Commonly Depicted in Pop Culture

lthough originating from Japan, the Maneki-Neko concept has been adopted globally in modern times. The famous fictional character Hello Kitty is speculated to be based on the Maneki-Neko although this speculation is yet to be given a definite confirmation.

It is also referenced in the hit franchise Pokémon. The Pokémon species Meowth is inspired by its concept with some obvious resemblances such as similarities in appearance and the possession of a Koban.

There are also temples and shrines, mostly in Japan, that resemble the image of the Maneki-Neko (e.g., Gotokuji temple).

It Can Be Made from a Wide Variety of Materials

Maneki-Neko antique figures were originally made from carved wood, metal, or stone. Sometimes they are made from cast iron, handmade porcelain, or even papier-mâché. In the present times, they are mostly made from ceramic or plastic; the latter being the most common and probably also the cheapest.

Originally, fortune cat carvings are only still. But eventually, figures with a moving paw (either left or right) were developed. These figures are more common on plastic-made ones because of the relatively lighter material. There are also Maneki-Neko figures made from Gold or Jade which are sold at higher prices.

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