Cats are well-known to be loved in Japan.
But felines were actually feared historically for their mystic and evil magic. That was until the 17th century when various towns were plagued by rats and the people realized how great cats were at hunting rats.
The use of cats to eradicate mice problems was so widespread that it led to the conception of the infamous cat islands such as that of Aoshima.
The good that cat have served mankind has since made it a popular domestic pet well-loved by the masses.
The Maneki Neko is the Japanese lucky cat that goes by various names including:
- Fortune cat
- Lai lai mao (来来猫)
- Welcome cat
- Beckoning cat
- Money cat
- Lucky cat
- Waving cat
And it’s supposed magical powers of symbolism has become so extensive that Maneki Neko is no longer constraint to Japan, but is very much a feline citizen of the world these days.
It’s probably even more popular than Hello Kitty!
Different cities tend to be known for different variations of Maneki Neko. Some of the more popular designs come from Tokoname, Kutani, Seto, Takasaki, Imado, MIkawa, etc.
If you are someone who pays attention to detail, then it is suggested that you review the different designs to find one that you feel most affiliated with.
Origins of Maneki Neko
No one could clearly pinpoint how the revered waving cat came to be. But there are various folklore about cats helping people by beckoning them to follow towards safety and shelter.
During the ancient times when Samurais roamed, a celebrated samurai of the Uesugi clan was badly wounded in battle and stumbled along at retreat. Just when all seemed lost, he came across a black cat that seemed to invite him to follow it. He did, and found his way to a temple hidden amongst the forest where he recuperated and later went on to defeat his nemesis.
Then there’s also the story of a woman in Tokyo who lived in poverty and was no longer able to care for her cat. She decided to let it go as she felt that her beloved cat deserved better. The cat then appeared in her dreams to forgive her and somehow suggested that she make a statue of it to keep her company. She then moulded the cat out of clay (with one front paw raised of course) and put it on display prominently on the window ledge. Her luck turned almost immediately and life started to become better. Her neighbors were amused when she attributed her change of luck to the lucky cat statue. So they borrowed it to display as a decorative item at home and their fortunes turned for the better too! Everyone from everywhere then started to buy clay cats from the woman when word about it’s magical powers of luck transformation spread.
There are actually a lot more stories of cats saving the day in Japanese folklore. But the most famous one is probably the one about saving a monk.
A monk who was barely getting enough donations to feed himself only had a companion in the form of a white furry cat. One day, he decided that the cat needs to find a new owner to care for it as he could no longer be able to do so. But the cat stayed loyal and refused to leave the temple where the monk is at. When a thunder storm brewed on day, the monk sought shelter under a tree. He then saw his pet which signaled for him to come over. He did, and right after a bolt of lightning struck the tree, sending it into flames and crashing down onto the earth. The cat had saved his life and white Maneki Neko started to spruce up all over temples across the land.
As you can see, there’s a lot of stories behind the origins of the cat of luck.
It’s not just a fad that some smart artist came up with to sell merchandise.
As time passed, the different poses of the lucky cat and it’s different attributes started to carry different meanings.
Symbolism of Maneki Neko
It no surprise that with the innovative minds of the modern era, that we are seeing more and more variations of Maneki Neko all over the place.
Yet many people who purchase them don’t realize that different cats can carry different meanings and symbolism.
Here is a list their features and what they represent.
Raised left paw
When the left paw is raised, it is a female Maneki Neko.
It’s supposed to attract people and attention… like curious customers.
These are meant to convey prosperity in the evening and are therefore most popular with bars and entertainment establishments.
Raised right paw
The male Maneki Neko has it’s right front paw raised and more associated with day time fortune.
It’s also supposed to bring good fortune for the owner.
This is why it’s the most common version observed in restaurants and retail stores… especially at the cashier or main entrance.
Both paws raised
As odd as this might appear to be, a cat with both paws raised (double pawed) as if reaching for the sky is said to combine both the positive associations of both the left and right paw.
It is also said to convey the message of longevity for 10,000 years.
Seeing business owners put this on display is like having someone drive a tank to a car race.
The two paws work together to draw in customers and attract money luck.
You might chuckle in laughter when you see this one for the first time. But there’s a logic behind this.
Maneki Nekos with high paws can be easily identified with their oversized outstretched paws. Some paws are depicted so tall that the length from cat head to paw tip can be of the same height as the cat from head to toe.
Essentially double it’s “natural” height.
Japanese lucky cats with high paw are represent the calling of good luck for the future.
So if you desire immediate luck, this is not a cat to display at work or at home.
The back-paw Maneki Neko show the back of the paw instead of the front.
Sort of like a provocative come-and-get-me gesture.
There is no symbolism of this gestured cat. And it seems to be just a cat manufactured to sell more products.
It is believed that the calico cat is the most authentic and luckiest one among them all.
Calico basically refers to a color pattern combination of black, white and orange.
They are understandably, the most widely available and usually the ones we see in retail outlets and food establishments.
Most Maneki Nekos are depicted in white.
They represent happiness and celebrations.
Black lucky cats have an ability to ward off evil as it is associated with the supernatural.
It also repels off bad luck.
It must be said that black Maneki Nekos are shrouded in mystery… which might actually make sense.
Red Maneki Neko invites good health and also capable of fending off evil energy.
When we talk about pink Japanese cats, we usually think about Hello Kitty.
Pink Maneki Neko is usually colored in the pinkish shade of Japanese cherry blossoms.
They signify blossoming relationships and romance luck.
Blue Maneki Nekos represent peace and safety.
These are odd-looking cats that are seldom observed on display.
This colored cat also represents safety. But is mostly used to call for academic luck.
So if you have children at home and think that they could use a little feline luck to ace the exams, this is the one to get for the study table.
They are also often seen in montessori and tuition centers.
Gold color symbolizes wealth luck in feng shui.
And gold cats are obviously meant to bring wealth and fortune.
This is why they are most often the Maneki Neko of choice in Chinese establishments such as restaurants.
Cat with items
It’s almost inevitable that Maneki Neko would end up being depicted with symbolic items to compound the good luck that it’s supposed to bring owners.
These are meant to represent the attributes that these emblems signify.
Finally, it is important that you choose a variation of Maneki Neko that you feel connected to. After all, if you love your cat, the more the likelihood that it will love you back by bringing good luck to you, your family members, and your business.