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Meet Maneki Neko - Lucky Cat Extraordinary
famous "Lucky Cat" is incredibly irresistible, having now attained
cult-like status amongst die-hard fans around the world. With paw
raised high to wave in good fortune, we discovered when we visited
Tokyo that Maneki Neko is found almost everywhere – in shops, hotels,
restaurants, offices, parks, shopping malls and every kind of retail
store and business. Maneki Neko is believed to attract wealth, health,
customers and even high marks in examinations. In recent years, the
cat's fame as a good luck charm for business and careers has extended
well beyond the shores of Japan. FSW went in search of Maneki Neko's
and collected by the Japanese for several hundred years, the cult of
Maneki-Neko has, in recent years, spread throughout the world, due
significantly to the rise of Internet websites devoted to it. He has
strong followings throughout Asia, Australia, Europe, Britain, and more
recently in America. The little cat from Japan has come to symbolize
the perfect good luck charm for small and medium sized businesses
everywhere where people love cats.
Cat lovers have little trouble relating to the cat being a
good-luck charm. He is after all, incredibly cute, and his most famous
offspring, the much loved HELLO KITTY, has smiled his way into many a
kid's heart. But it is the good luck cat himself who has materialized
into many shop windows around the world.
can be seen perching on top of cash registers of restaurants in cities
from Rio De Janeiro to Moscow, and from New York to San Francisco. He
is sold in all Japanese gift-shops and Chinese grocery-markets in the
major cities of the world, and in recent years, there has been an
amazing number of modern style "versions" of Lucky Cat.
is a cat-collector's dream, simply because today, the cat is
manufactured form almost every material possible. So you will find
Lucky Cats made of ceramics, crystal, glass, wood, plastic and carved
out of many different kinds of semi - precious stones. The image of the
Cat is found on key-chains, place mats, pens, bags, clothes – so he has
thus become every retailer's favourite. For in attaining cult status,
has become big business.
From the hundred-dollar Kutani ceramic cats, the traditional
Japanese welcome-to-my-shop figurines, the contemporary solar-powered,
arm-waving automatons, the tiny Gotokuji Temple bells, to the large
gold money-cats coming out of China – these products are all part of
the wonderful "Beckoning Cat" family, charming their way across the
The Legends of Maneki Neko
Tama The Temple Cat
It is said that during the start of the Edo period during the17th
century, in a rundown temple in the western part of Tokyo, lived a monk
who kept a pet cat named Tama. Master and cat were so close they
communicated almost instinctively. The monk said repeatedly to the cat,
"Tama, I keep you and feed you despite my poverty. Can you not do
something for this temple?"
One day, returning from a hunting expedition, Lord Hikone, was
caught in a heavy downpour and took shelter from the rain under a big
tree in front of the temple. Looking at the temple gates, he noticed
that a cat was inviting him to enter the temple. The cat kept waving
his hand until, intrigued, he left the shelter of the tree and ran
towards the cat. Almost instantly, the tree he had been sheltering
under was struck by lighting. Lord Hikone realised the cat had saved
his life. In gratitude, he became the temple's benefactor and since
that day, the temple prospered. When he died, Tama was buried in the
temple grounds and in his honour, Maneki Neko was invented.
The Cat Who Saved The Courtesan
Another legend, said to have originated in the 18th century,
describes the case of the cat who valiantly saved the famous courtesan
Usugamo. She was well known as a lover of cats, and so she kept her cat
by her side at all times. One night, while on her way to the toilet,
her cat started pulling the hem of her skirt violently. Though she
tried to chase it away, the cat did not stop the disturbance. Terrified
by the cat's insistent action, Usugumo called for help. The owner of
the house rushed to her and in a single swipe of his samurai sword, cut
off the cat's head. The cat's head flew to the ceiling of the toilet,
bit and killed a large snake hiding there ready to strike Usugumo
below. Mortified, Usugumo mourned deeply over the mistaken death of her
cat. To console her, the owner of the house presented her the cat's
image carved out of aromatic wood. Many believe the image of the loyal
cat was the origin of Maneki Neko.
The Image of The Cat of Imado
In the19th century, towards the end of the Edo period, an old woman
who lived in Imado had a pet cat. She was so poor that one day she told
her cat, "I'm sorry I have to abandon you – I can no longer afford to
feed you". That night, the cat appeared in her dream and told her, "
Tomorrow, gather some clay and fashion my image out of the clay. It
will surely bring good luck to you". The old woman awoke and did as she
had dreamed, made the cat's image in clay and discovered that the cat
image attracted many buyers. The more the old woman made the Cat's
images, the more customers visited her to buy them, so that eventually,
she was no longer short of money. The cat's image in clay had relieved
her from poverty. Many people say this was the true origin of Maneki
If you speak to modern Japanese who believe in the efficacy of
their Lucky Cat, few are able to confirm if Maneki Neko indeed became
popular in the nineteenth century when Japan was ruled by the Samurai
classes. When the rule of the Samurai ended and modern Japan started
with the Meiji period around 1870, Maneki Neko began appearing in many
historical documents one after another.
Popularity of Maneki Neko
The popularity of Maneki Neko is due in part to Japanese merchants
being generally a superstitious lot. Until today, these businessmen and
traders always keep some Lucky Cat charm at the front or back of their
stores, in the hope that the Maneki Neko will attract plenty of
customers into their shops. The cat has since become indispensable for
its role in bringing luck to build a thriving business.
Why is the cat so popular ? The reason lies in its lovely
character. Men and women, young and old, fall in love with its round
face and big eyes at first sight. This is probably why Maneki Neko
appears in so many corporate advertisements.
The Paw of Maneki Neko
There are two variations of Maneki Neko. One raises its left paw.
The other raises its right paw. The legend specifies that the one with
its left paw up invites customers or people into your shop, while the
one with its right paw up invites money. The origin of this legend is
not clear. According to the research done by Maneki Neko Club, about
60% of Maneki Nekos have their left paws up. The majority of Maneki
Nekos made in earlier times seem to have their left paws up. The left
paw up, which invites customers, might be the original pose of Maneki
Neko. However, people's lust for money in modern day Japan reflects the
increasing number of Maneki Nekos with its right paw up.
The height of the paw also has a meaning. The range of height can
be anywhere from around the mouth to well over the tip of the ear.
According to legend, the higher the paw, the farther the Maneki Neko
invites the customers from i.e. the greater will be its reach.
The Color of Maneki Neko
Maneki Neko comes in different colours. The most popular are those
that are tri-coloured. The tri-colored cat is considered a lucky charm
worldwide. The male tri-coloured version is especially revered as the
lucky cat by sailors around the world. Genetic study has revealed that
the tri-colour gene in male cats are extremely rare. The rarity of male
tri-coloured cats has been a well-known fact in Japan for a long time.
This is why many Maneki Nekos are created to have the tri-coloured
Many Japanese business people would never think of having a
restaurant, store, bar, or shop without the presence of the beckoning
cat. As long as it has at least one raised forepaw they can take many
forms. The cat is waving to us, asking us to come into the shop or
asking good fortune to visit the establishment.
Modern exponents believe that Maneki Neko should carry coins or
have coins dangling from their bibs to ensure wealth. More prosaic
origins may be tied to an agricultural belief that cats kept pests away
from crops or satin worms and thus aided prosperity of the family.
There are many variations on the Maneki Neko and you may see the left
paw or the right paw raised. It is up to you whether you want more
sales turnover or more profit.
You may want a Beckoning Cat for your office or store to attract
customers or in your place of business or house to attract good
fortune. Placed near the front door of a store, it is said to attract
new patrons. At home, you can put you Maneki Neko anywhere you want to
attract good luck.
The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (Sept/Oct 2004)". To subscribe, please click here.