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The Beckoning Cat

Updated on January 19, 2015
VladimirCat profile image

Vladimir is a former champion ratter (retired). His hobbies are bushwalking, birdwatching and nature studies

High Paw for the Raised Paw

Have you ever wondered what those fat little cats with an upraised paw are doing? I must admit they intrigued me.

This is the Beckoning or Japanese Fortune cat, the Maneki Neko, a popular symbol of good luck and an invitation to prosperity and success in business.

You see her typically with a bib, collar and bell, with one paw raised and often holding a coin or fish in the other paw.

Maneki Neko, just like cats in the real world, come in all variations of colour. Popular shades are white, representing purity, black, to ward off evil, and red, pink or gold. Whatever the colour, the chubby little Neko is said to bring you good fortune in some shape or form.

Neko Legend for Children

The Beckoning Cat
The Beckoning Cat

Told gently for little ones. Love those pastel illustrations. Simply feline in elegance!


The Legend of the Goutokuji Temple

Who was the first Beckoning Cat?

Once upon a time, as all good stories start, a cat sat in the door of the Gotoku-ji temple, looking out at a thunderstorm. As all cats do, she began to groom herself, washing her face with an upraised paw.

Outside, under a tree, was a.Feudal Lord waiting for the storm to pass. The little cat raised her paw to him in the traditional Japanese beckoning gesture.

Cold and wet, the man quickly approached the cat and entered the temple. Moments later, the tree he had been using as shelter was struck by lightning and caught fire. The tree broke with a loud crash and flaming pieces of its shattered trunk fell precisely where the Feudal Lord had been standing. His life had been saved by the beckoning cat!

From then on, the Maneki Neko was considered to be an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy.

The Beckoning Gesture

Cultural Differences in Body Language

It looks to me as if the Maneki Neko is waving at me, not beckoning to me. This is because body language is differently recognised by Europeans and the Japanese.

The Japanese beckon by holding up the hand, palm out, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back up, while Europeans hold up their hand backwards and move the wrist to call someone over.

These days Maneki Neko are made specifically for Western markets, and will have the cat's paw facing backwards in a beckoning gesture more familiar to Westerners.

Commerce can take care of cultural differences, and the little Neko is about prosperity after all.

Left or Right?
Left or Right?

Left Paw or Right Paw? - Does the paw matter?

Generally speaking, it's thought that the left paw beckons for people (customers) while the right attracts money or good fortune.

It's been suggested that a left paw raised is best for drinking establishments, the right paw for other stores. Those who hold their liquor well are called hidari-kiki in Japan, meaning "left-handed". Does that sound like a connection?

Giant Neko, Nagoya, Japan
Giant Neko, Nagoya, Japan

Many Japanese business people wouldn't dream of having a restaurant, tavern, or shop without a Beckoning Cat.

Get your own collectible lucky cat

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

A perfect little lucky cat - and how can you resist those gorgeous eyes?


The Cat's Collar

Not to protect Wildlife

If you look at a Neko you'll see some sort of decoration around the neck. This can be a bandana or a scarf but the most common attire is a collar, bell and decorative bib.

Red collars made from a red flower, the hichirimen, were once popular for real cats of wealthy households, while small bells were attached for decoration and to keep track of the cat's whereabouts. The Neko follows the fashion of long ago.

Why not try it yourself?

Try a Beckoning Cat for your office or in your house .

At the front door of your office, a Neko is said to attract new patrons. At home, put your Neko anywhere to attract good luck. Who knows, it might work!

More on the Beckoning Cat

© 2009 Vladimir

Want to raise YOUR paw?

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    • profile image

      Helene-Malmsio 5 years ago

      When I was managing Community SkillShare in Melb we had a group of visiting Japanese researchers learning from our jobsearch and placement services, and they gave me one of these beckoning cat figures as a thank you and told me it was for good fortune. I still have it - cute as ever.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      visiting the Asakusa temple in Tokyo a few years ago, we passed a stall with shelves and shelves of all sizes and colors of maneki neko. There were three or four shelves 2-3 meters long with mechanical, waving ones, all out of time with each other. Quite a sight and loads of luck!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Oh yes, love the maneki neko! We bought a bunch of miniature ones when we visited Japan, and gave them all away as gifts to friends and family. Hope they brought them good fortune!