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This Lucky Cat Smiles On You

Updated on November 18, 2013

What's up with all the waving cats?

If you visit any Japanese-owned small business you are sure to see some variation on the "waving cat." Properly known as "maneki-neko" they may be white, they may be gold, they may be smiling (hah!), they may be looking slightly dyspeptic (more likely). But rest assured that they will be somewhere on the premises, sometimes many of them all at once. A venerable symbol of luck and prosperity, these cats add a little fun wherever they sit and wave.

In recent years the phenomenon of the waving cats has spread into all manner of businesses and homes -- they bring a smile wherever they go.

Find out more about the lore of these favored felines below.

(photo courtesy searobin at wikimedia commons)

A classic (and classy) maneki-neko for your house or shop.

Maneki Neko Money Lucky Cat Chinese Japanese Statue
Maneki Neko Money Lucky Cat Chinese Japanese Statue

A classy little Maneki Neko statue for any occasion or location.

photo by marshallhenrie, courtesy of wikimedia commons
photo by marshallhenrie, courtesy of wikimedia commons

The Lucky Cat -- A Japanese Original

I can't fully explain it but maneki-neko (the Japanese term for the lucky, waving cat) crack me up. Perhaps it is because I am a total sucker for cultural oddities. Or perhaps it is because I continue to fail miserably at training our two cats (Baby and Slim) to sit on the mantle and beckon to our visitors. They do wave, but it is with a raised middle claw, ala Kid Rock.

No matter, I can easily get my waving cat fix just by strolling down the street to the local donut shop where a dozen or more sit on top of the display case. And these cats clearly have not been fixed because they appear to have been reproducing at a frantic pace -- not just in Japanese-owned businesses but in many others seeking to add a little prosperity karma to their shop.

I should note that while I have used the term "waving cat" a more precise term is "beckoning cat." In Japanese culture the outward palm is actually a friendly gesture calling one in. Informally these friendly felines are also known as money cats, prosperity cats, and lucky cats. They are also called happy cats, but judging by the expression on most of them, I believe that desctiption is a bit of a stretch.

Most often you see maneki-neko with a single paw (usually the left) outstretched, though sometimes both are raised. The higher the paw, the more luck the cat will draw according to the lore. Often you will see the cat with a coin to reinforce the money mojo. While they are most often found in shops, increasingly people are placing them in homes to bring good fortune (or just because they are fun).

More on the story of Maneki-neko

A great clip from Animal Planet on the origins of the "waving cat" -- including a crazy number of them in every conceivable location.

photo by Immanual Geil, courtesy of wikimedia commons
photo by Immanual Geil, courtesy of wikimedia commons

So where did the legend start?

It wouldn't be a folk legend if there was complete agreement on the origins of maneki-neko. While the video above tells the tale of an poor woman who had to sell her cat but ended up making a tribute statue that brought her great fortune, there are many other "origin stories."

One variation has a shopkeeper taking in a starving cat who repays the favor by sitting outside the door and beckoning customers. Seems unlikely, though my perspective may be colored by my own cats who spend most of their limited waking hours plotting how to overthrow the humans in the house.

A second variation holds that a cat waved at a nobleman to warn him away from danger and, as a result, cats are now considered symbols of luck. Again, I may be reading too much into my own situation but I think it is far more likely that a cat would wave you over to the edge of a cliff and then whisper "take just one more step."

A third variation -- and the one I tend to like best -- is that a cat residing in an impoverished temple beckoned in a weary traveler who just happened to be a wealthy lord. In gratitude the rich traveler became a patron of the temple, allowing it to prosper for years to come. I like this best because it seems to align with the fundamental nature of cats (at least my cats) which is to always look out for number one.

Before I go any farther I should note that I love our kitties -- they are an endless source of amusement and they are great to take a nap with. I just harbor no illusions about their ultimate motives. Around our house we have often said that if you keeled over a dog would go for help or would lay down by your side to provide comfort. A cat would hold a spoon under your nose to see if your are still breathing or if they should start to chow down now since you won't be around to dole out the kibble. Don't get me wrong -- I think cats are great -- they just aren't real sentimental.

Really, it doesn't really matter which version of the story you like best. The bottom line is whether you want to bring a little more prosperity into your business, good fortune into your home, or luck into your life you can relax and just let these tireless felines beckon on your behalf! Lucky indeed!

Cats you can beckon to come home with you

Maneki Neko Money Lucky Cat Chinese Japanese Statue
Maneki Neko Money Lucky Cat Chinese Japanese Statue

A classic lucky cat, with a coin to bring you good fortune.

Mini Maneki Neko - Set of 6
Mini Maneki Neko - Set of 6

Spread the lucky cat love around with some mini-me sized maneki-neko.

Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat
Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat

A charming children's book that lays out the lore of the lucky cat.


Do you have a "lucky cat?" Share your story. . .

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    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I do not have a lucky cat but I enjoyed reading about the background of these often seen cats. Truly I enjoyed you little anecdotes about your real cats. I can relate.

    • TheLaughingBear profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: Thanks so much for the kind words -- and cheers for your kitty -- that is quite a milestone!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Fun topic! I do love cats and these are so cute. My "lucky cat" is a real one who recently celebrated her 20th birthday. Sounds pretty lucky to me!


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