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Maneki Neko Fortune Cat Goes West

Updated on September 13, 2017
avorodisa profile image

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 Feng Shui Lucky 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 it represents 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 the 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 helped Maneki Neko become itself
Japanese bobtail is a cat breed that helped Maneki Neko become itself

Maneki Neko and its types

You 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, people would think that it is waving at us rather than inviting 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 do the following: just like Maneki Neko, they would raise their hand, palm turned outside, and they would fist their hand and open it again until they attract attention. As for Europeans, they would do the same thing, but their palm facing them. So, sometimes, they would produce Maneki Neko in a European manner - with a 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 changed with time, and 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. It is the usual color combination of a Japanese bobtail. It was the luckiest one and was also called “mike” which means “three furs”.

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

Alongside with classical colors, other colors are also popular.
White color means purity and is the second popular color.
Black color, according to superstitions, scares evil away. It is especially popular with women who want to protect themselves from unwanted followers.
Red color is also a protective one chasing away evil spirits and illnesses.
Gold color refers to wealth.
Pink color is not the most traditional one. But it gains 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 in rich families got their collars. The bell helped owners detect and find the cat if it got lost. Very often, Maneki Neko also has a bib. The bib was also 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 like this god.

Sometimes Maneki Neko holds a coin in a paw. This coin called koban was popular during Edo epoch and was worth 1000 dollars. This is how Maneki Neko attracted good luck and wealth. Maneki Neko holding a coin was often used as a moneybox and this function of it has become very popular in Western countries.

How old is Maneki Neko?

It is believed that Maneki Neko appeared during 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 took 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. Soon, the tree next to which the rich man stood was struck by the lightning. The wealthy man made friends with the abbot and became his patron. When the latter died, a stone statue was put in his honour.

The legendary cat saved the life of one geisha by pulling on her kimono and preventing her from meeting a poisonous snake
The legendary cat saved the life of one geisha by pulling on her kimono and preventing her from meeting a poisonous snake

A courtesan story
One courtesan whose name was Usugumo and who lived in the Eastern Tokyo, in Yoshiwara district, had a favorite cat. Once, 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 to chop the cat’s head 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 friend’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. Soon, 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 - a pop culture character in Japan, also a trademark used as a brand for many products
Hello Kitty - a pop culture character in Japan, also a trademark used as a brand for many products

The image of Maneki Neko in modern culture

Truly, the image of Maneki Neko has had a great impact on the modern culture of Japan and not only Japan! In particular, it formed “Hello, kitty!” character. In one of the Pokémon toys called “Gambare” or “Goraemon” Maneki Neko is an artefact 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 trade network based upon artificial intelligence. This book contains the story.

Hello Kitty Overdone!
Hello Kitty Overdone!

The legend of Maneki Neko

© 2012 Anna Sidorova

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    • avorodisa profile image
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      Anna Sidorova 5 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 5 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!