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June 03, 2020 4 min read

What’s the Maneki Neko?


The Maneki Neko is a traditional figure from Japan that is made up of ceramic or porcelain. It’s the characteristic figure of a cat with one of its front paws raised, although you can also find some with both paws raised. As the saying goes, depending on how high the paw is raised, it will bring more or less luck. A bell and a talisman are often added to the figure.
The purpose of this special cat in the Japanese tradition is to chase away evil spirits and bring luck and success to the family it belongs to. Its similar to the well-known horseshoe good luck charm we are usually familiar with.
You may have heard of it under the name of the “Lucky Cat.”
It’s an important and famous figure in the country of the rising sun that has even found its own place in their culture. You can find them in many different sizes, ranging from miniature kittens to large cats, and even for keychains and necklaces. Therefore, they make for a perfect piece of decoration for any home.
The Maneki Neko has also become famous in China.

Lucky cat

What does Maneki Neko mean?

The literal meaning of “Maneki Neko” would be the “cat that welcomes.”
You will find them often placed at the counter of stores or front of restaurants, from which they beckon customers to come and spend money in the establishment to help it grow and prosper. They can also be placed at the window display of a store with the same purpose.
The meaning of the figure or the kind of reward it gives changes with the color of its fur:
The golden cat represents money.
The white cat (it is mostly white but it can also have black spots) brings joy.
The black cat drives away illness and helps to stay in good health.
The pink cat strengthens relationships and love.
The red cat is a wall against evil.
The blue or green cat encourages success at school

Maneki neko cat

The position of the cat also contributes to its meaning

Aside from the degree of luck depending on how raised its paw is mentioned above, whether it is the right or the left paw that is raised also has its meaning.
When it has its left paw raised, it means that it welcomes other people to come in.
When it is the right paw that is raised, it means that it is trying to bring fortune to your house or establishment.
Both of them raised would mean a stronger degree of luck as well as protection of the house or establishment.

Legends about the luck that the Maneki Neko Brings
One of such famous legends goes back to the Edo period (17th Century). It happened in a western area of Tokyo named Setagaya, where the Maneki Neko originated.
A man by the name of Naotaka, who had been hunting in the woods, was surprised by a dreadful storm. Fearing for his life, and not finding anything better, he took shelter under a tree, despite trees being known to attract lighting during storms. While still in panic, he noticed a cat that was standing at the entrance of a temple. He didn’t want to bother the people of the temple, but the cat suddenly beckoned him to come in by raising its paw. Some people say that the cat really did make a sign to the man, while others believe that the cat was probably just washing itself and the man misunderstood. Whatever may have been the case, the man accepted the invitation and went in to protect himself. While he was running his way to the temple, lightning fell on the tree and struck where he had been seconds ago. The cat, named Tama, became his savior and out of gratefulness he became a regular visitor of that temple. The story spread and the temple, supported by the Clan Li, became prosperous. Upon his death, Tama was honorably buried in the Goto-Kuji Cat Cemetery. In memory of his precious cat that had brought them prosperity, his owner invented the Maneki Neko.

maneki neko legend

Also during the Edo period, but this time in an eastern area of Tokyo named Yoshiwara, another legend about the Maneki Neko unfolded. A sad story about a Geisha who owned a cat.
One evening, at the establishment where she worked, the Geisha was making her way to the restroom when her cat suddenly jumped on her, clutching to her kimono. The owner of the establishment witnessed the scene and thought that the cat had been possessed by evil spirits, so he took his katana and cut the cat’s head. The head dropped on a snake that had been about to attack the Geisha, making it clear that the cat had only wanted to protect her. Sad by the death of her beloved cat, the Geisha shed sorrowful tears over her loss. One of the customers, touched by her deep sadness, offered her a wooden figure of a cat that he was carrying. The figure would come to represent how the cat protected the Geisha and become the Maneki Neko that protects we know nowadays.
Maneki Neko Festival

Maneki neko

The Maneki Neko Festival takes place on September 29th.

In this special day, special ornaments called “Fuku-Neko” are hidden around the city, and people enjoy having a walk and looking for them.
“Kuru Fuku Maneki Neko Matsuri” (Festival of the Fortune to Come and the Maneki Neko) is held in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, and it’s a wonderful place to find high quality clay figures. Coming from a long past tradition, the manufacture of pottery has always flourished in Seto City, so it is well-known for its massive production of Maneki Neko ornaments.
Every year, during the Seto festival, lunches are sold in Maneki Neko shaped boxes, and you can also get a Maneki Neko make-up done to you for free.
If you happen to be in Japan around this date, September 29th, this is an event you won’t want to miss.

 


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