Have you ever seen those waving cat figurines in Asian restaurants, supermarkets or shops? These are called Maneki Neko, which means “Lucky Cat” or “Fortune Cat.” A staple of Japanese and Chinese culture, Maneki Neko is believed to attract good fortune and good luck to its owner. If you’ve never heard of Maneki Neko, or if you have but want to learn more about this interesting talisman, read on.
What Does Maneki Neko Mean?
The translation of Maneki Neko, which is a Japanese term, is “beckoning cat.” The figurine of the cat has its paw raised, representing attracting/waving in good fortune for its owner.
The real-life inspiration for Maneki Neko is believed to be the Japanese Bobtail. Its calico colorings (and other variations) are what most Maneki Neko figurines resemble most closely. So if you own a Japanese Bobtail, know that it is considered to be the luckiest of cats!
What are the Legends Surrounding Maneki Neko?
It is believed that Maneki Neko originated during Japan’s Edo period (from the 17th to the 19th centuries). One legend says that the Maneki Neko represents a cat who beckoned to a wealthy man who was taking shelter under a tree beside a temple (what is Tokyo’s Gotokuji Temple today) during a rainstorm. The cat beckoned the man to follow him inside the temple. After he went inside the temple, the tree he had been standing under was struck by lightning! The cat had saved the man’s life. He started donating money to the temple and it became prosperous. When the man finally died years later, he was honored with a statue of the beckoning cat.
A second legend about Maneki Neko says that a geisha’s pet cat started tugging at her kimono one day. Because the owner of the brothel she worked in thought the cat was possessed, he cut off its head with a sword. The cat’s head landed on a snake that had been about to strike, killing the snake and saving the geisha from imminent death. One of the geisha’s customers then made a statue of the cat to make her happy, as she was distraught over its loss.
Why is Maneki Neko’s Paw Raised?
If you have ever seen a Maneki Neko, you know that one of its paws is always raised. Each paw signifies something different, however. If the right paw of the Maneki Neko is raised, it is inviting money, success and fortune. If the left paw of the Maneki Neko is raised, it is designed to attract customers to the business.
Is There a Meaning Behind the Colors of Maneki Neko?
You will find that there are many different variations of Maneki Neko in different colors. Each of these colors has its own special meaning. The following are what the colors in Maneki Neko signify:
- Green: Stands for good health.
- Red: Means protection against illness and evil.
- Pink: Signifies romantic relationships and love.
- Black: Is meant to ward off evil spirits.
- Blue: Is to attract peace, happiness and harmony among members of a family.
- Gold: Means prosperity and wealth.
- White: Signifies happiness, positivity and purity.
- Calico: This is thought to be the luckiest color combination in the Maneki Neko, and is the traditional colors most often found on the statue.
Is There a Meaning Behind Maneki Neko’s Outfit?
Maneki Neko figurines usually depict a cat dressed in a bib, bell and collar. This is because during Japan’s Edo period, rich people dressed their cats like this. The neck decorations on a Maneki Neko stand for wealth. The bell was so that the owner knew where his cat was at all times.
A Maneki Neko statue may also be holding something in its paw, which varies from statue to statue. These include:
- A gem or marble: this is to attract money to the Maneki Neko’s owner; or possibly represents a crystal ball and wisdom of the future.
- A fish: this is a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
- A hammer: this is a magic money mallet that signifies wealth.
- A gold coin: this is a koban gold coin, from Japan’s Edo period. It is worth one ryo, which was, considered to be a fortune during that time.
- A gourd: represents good luck and wealth.
- A prayer tablet: represents good luck and wealth.
- A daikon radish: represents good luck and wealth.
- An ingot: represents good luck and wealth.