The maneki-neko 招き猫
A smiling maneki-neko
The most powerful maneki-neko of them all: the tricolor cat beckoning with two paws!
Choosing your own maneki-neko can be a challenge!
Credit: By SolGrundy from Kyoto (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the maneki-neko is painted directly on the front window of restaurants
Gotoku-ji temple and its floor of maneki-neko
The guardian of Gotoku-ji temple is none other than a giant maneki-neko
Solemn or smiling, you'll often see cats inviting you to enter a shop or restaurant in Japan. This iconic Japanese feline is none other than a maneki-neko, a lucky mascot supposed to bring luck and wealth to the owner.
In Japanese popular culture, the maneki-neko, literally "beckoning cat", comes as a piggy bank, socks, a pattern on noren (Japanese split curtain). This cute little cat is everywhere. But why? Where does this fascination come from and what's the reason for these charming statuettes?
The origins of a myth
Like any legend, the origin of the first maneki-neko is uncertain, and multiple versions exist. One of them is set in the Edo period, between 1603 and 1868. One stormy night, a nobleman named Ii Naotaka took shelter under a tree, near a dilapidated temple owned by a humble monk. After a few moments, Naotaka noticed a cat on the temple porch, washing itself by rubbing its ear. Naotaka thought the cat was beckoning him to enter the humble abode, because while in the West we usually beckon people with the palm of the hand facing us, in Asia the gesture is reversed, with the palm facing down. Naotaka entered the temple, and narrowly avoided a bolt of lightning, that struck the tree he was just under! Extremely grateful to the monk and his cat, he donated a large sum of money to the temple. And so, two legends were born: that of the maneki-neko, and another about Gotoku-ji in the suburbs of Tokyo. This quiet and understated temple has a hundred maneki-neko statues, left on the ground by visitors hoping for wealth.
Paws in the air
While the statuettes at Gotoku-ji temple are white, maneki-neko are available in many colors, which change depending on what you're wishing for. Nevertheless some things always stay the same: a red ribbon with a bell around the neck, and a piece of gold or koban held in one paw. The differences lies in the position of the paw: to attract customers and friends, the cat will beckon with his left paw. If the goal is to attract wealth, he will beckon with his right paw. Naturally, the most effective lucky charm is the maneki-neko with both front paws in the air: bringing luck and happiness in both business and home life!
The color of happiness
When it comes to color, the choice is extensive. White, the traditional color, symbolises purity. Go for green if you hope to succeed in your studies. Black cats fight evil spirits, while red ones ward off diseases. For a successful business or career, the colour blue. Pink is preferred for bringing happiness in love. As for the gold cat, it's a Chinese adaptation of this Japanese creation. Really, all these colors are only secondary, because in the kingdom of maneki-neko there is one all-powerful ruler: the calico or tricolor cat, If you see one crossing a street in Japan it's the most powerful charm of all, bringing luck and success in all areas.
The maneki-neko enjoys such popularity that the Japanese have dedicated a day to it, on September 29th. In general, the cat is a beloved pet in Japan, and is celebrated on February 22nd each year on 'Cat Day' - Neko no hi.
Why not check out: 10 gifts to bring back from Japan?