Japanese Lucky Cat
(Maneki Neko.)

Maneki Neko - the beckoning Japanese lucky cat.

A very popular cat character that has made a journey from East to West is Maneki Neko the beckoning cat. The cat, in the form of a figurine or sculpture, is beckoning with its paw held upright.

Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko is considered to be a very lucky cat in Japanese society.

You will see the cat displayed in stores and in restaurants; in fact many businesses have the fortune cat on show to beckon in new customers.

Traditionally the figurine is made from ceramic, papier mache or sometimes wood, modern versions of the cat are often plastic.

Opulent examples of the Japanese lucky cat can be found made of jade or even gold.

Nowadays the fortune cat's image is used for coin banks, key chains, bobbling car dashboard ornaments, decals, and many other novelties. It is often used in Japanese corporate advertising.

Many Beckoning Cats, They Are All Maneki Neko

You will find some variations of the Japanese lucky cat.

Some are holding up their left paw and some are holding up their right paw.

The left paw, it is believed, beckons new customers to your business, the right paw beckoning brings you good fortune or money.

You may even find a fortune cat with both paws beckoning; after all new customers are liable to bring you money.

The Maneki Neko cats that welcome you into stores and restaurants in Japan have their beckoning paw facing outwards.

This is because the Japanese beckon by holding up their hand with the palm facing out, and folding the fingers down and then back up.

In the West you will find many examples of the cat with the paw facing inwards in keeping with the way Westerners beckon.

These Westernized Maneki Neko cats are often referred to as dollar cats.

The most popular beckoning cats are colored white with black and orange patches like a calico cat. These Maneki Neko are believed to be particularly lucky because calico cats themselves are thought to bring luck in Japan, and in many other parts of the world.

All white examples are also very popular and are said to represent purity, and to attract positive things.

A red beckoning cat it is believed will attract love, marriage and personal happiness.

All black beckoning cats are thought to ward off evil spirits and stalkers.

Green Maneki Neko cats are believed by some to bring good health and, by others, to bring knowledge or successful studies.

A golden Japanese lucky cat it is believed will beckon immense wealth and prosperity your way.

A great many lucky cats are shown holding a gold coin. This coin is a Koban a very high value coin that was in circulation in the Tokugawa (or Edo) period.

Other Maneki Neko are shown holding a large fish, this is to symbolize abundance and good fortune.

You may even see a Japanese lucky cat holding a mallet, this is not used to fight anyone off, but is another good fortune symbol. Daikoku Mantra, the god of farmers, had a mallet that gold coins fell from every time that he shook it.

Yet other Maneki Neko are empty handed but, of course, are still lucky.

Usually you will see a red collar with a bell and a bib around the neck of the lucky cat. These items likely represent what was worn by cats in prosperous homes in the Tokugawa period. The bells were not for the protection of birds but to help owners keep track of their cat.

The Japanese Lucky Cat Legends

There are many legends about the origin of the beckoning cat:

A very popular story is set in the 17th century. There was a dilapidated temple in the west of Tokyo.

The old priest kept a cat called Tama, and he often muttered and complained to Tama about his poverty. In spite of this the old priest always shared what little food he had with the cat, until one day there wasn't a scrap of food to be had.

Worn down by years of near starvation the priest shouted at his cat. "Tama, I have always fed you despite not having enough to eat myself. Couldn't you do something for this temple?" The cat got up and wandered out of the temple.

It so happened that Naotaka Ii who was the Samurai lord of the district was out riding near the temple. It had started to rain heavily and Naotaka Ii took shelter under a large tree when he noticed Tama in front of the temple, the cat appeared to be beckoning him.

"What would a cat want with a Samurai?" he thought and left the shelter of the tree and walked towards the cat.

As he did so lighting brought the tree crashing down. The beckoning cat had saved his life.

Scooping up Tama the Samurai rushed into the temple. "Who owns this lucky cat?" he bellowed.

Japanese lucky cat

Scooping up Tama the Samurai rushed into the temple. "Who owns this lucky cat?" he bellowed.

"Tama is my companion my lord" answered the old priest. In gratitude for the cat saving his life, the Samurai made the temple his family temple and it went from being dilapidated to a temple of splendor.

Tama lived in luxury for the rest of his life and when he finally died he was buried with great ceremony.

It is said that Maneki Neko was created in honor of Tama.

The Courtesan

Another popular legend about the origin of the Japanese lucky cat is the story of the courtesan.

In the 18th century in a house in Yosiwara, was a courtesan by the name of Usugumo. She was very popular and also a lover of cats, she kept her favorite cat by her side at all times.

One night as Usugumo was preparing to meet her guests her cat began tugging violently at her kimono, whatever she did the courtesan could not stop the cat from pulling at her gown.

Becoming afraid Usugumo cried out for help, and the Madam of the house came rushing in and, believing the cat to be possessed by an evil spirit, cut off its head with a sword.

The head flew up to the ceiling where it bit and killed a large snake that had been poised to strike Usugumo.

The courtesan fell into deep mourning over the loss of her loyal and brave cat.

To try to console her one of her guests carved a likeness of the cat from aromatic wood. This carving became known as Maneki Neko - the beckoning cat.

There are other legends and stories about the origin of the Japanese lucky cat, no one knows for sure how Maneki Neko became so popular, but one theory is that the start of the move to Westernize Japan saw the introduction of the beckoning cat.

The Meiji government desired to industrialize Japan and open up the country to foreign trade.

At that time models of male sexual organs where on open display in many businesses and thought of as powerful good luck charms.

The Meiji government banned these phallic charms in case they offended Western visitors. It is likely that Maneki Neko was created to fill the void.

Does the Japanese lucky cat remind you of another cat character? Some people believe that Hello Kitty owes her origins to Maneki Neko which means ‘beckoning cat’. It is thought that the name Hello Kitty may be a faulty translation from Japanese.

Many cats prefer to drink from a cat fountain rather than from a bowl. Movement through the fountain aerates the water, breaking the surface tension and drawing in oxygen. This can make the water more pleasant and refreshing. Want to find out more? Cat Fountains


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