It’s not often we can start a blog with a direct quote from a student, but I couldn’t say no to this one. So what IS the deal with that awesome cat thingy you see? Read on for all you need to know about the Maneki Neko!
The World of Maneki Neko 招き猫
Japan isn’t much given to superstition nowadays (or at least nothing like it was, though there’s still a healthy suspicion of ghosts), but in the heart of Japanese culture, amidst the hustle and bustle of Kobe’s streets, resides a little feline figurine that has captured the world’s fascination – the Maneki Neko, or the Beckoning Cat. This iconic talisman, often found gracing the entrances of businesses and homes, is not just a charming ornament but a symbol deeply rooted in Japanese folklore, bringing luck, prosperity, and good fortune to those who possess it.
The tale of this popular figurine traces its roots back to Japan’s Edo period (1603-1868). Legends surround this enchanting cat figurine, and one of the most popular stories is set in Tokyo’s Gotokuji Temple. According to folklore, a poor temple priest and his cat lived a modest life. One stormy day, a wealthy samurai sought refuge under a nearby tree when he noticed the temple cat, beckoning him to the safety of the temple grounds. Curious, he followed the cat’s invitation and was spared from a lightning strike that struck the very spot where he had been standing. Grateful for his miraculous escape, the samurai became a benefactor of the temple, ensuring its prosperity.
There are plenty of other variations on the origin story, and they can make for interesting reading!
Maneki Neko figurines come in various colors, each carrying its unique significance. A cat raising its left paw is believed to attract customers, while a right-pawed cat invites good fortune and wealth, hence it is also said that the one with left paw is for business and the right is for home. Some versions feature both paws raised, symbolizing protection and happiness. The colors are equally meaningful: white represents purity, gold symbolizes wealth, black wards off evil spirits, and calico brings good luck.
Beyond its traditional origins, Maneki Neko has become a global symbol of luck and prosperity. Its adorable appearance and the charming way it raises its paw have captivated people worldwide. In Japan, Maneki Neko remains a popular gift, especially among business owners, hoping to invite success into their ventures. Additionally, it has found its way into popular culture, appearing in movies, anime, and even contemporary art, bridging the gap between tradition and modernity.
Maneki Neko comes in various sizes and styles, making it a delightful collectible. From miniature keychains to larger ceramic statues, collectors and enthusiasts can find Maneki Neko in countless designs, each infused with its unique charm. Some even come with moving paws, adding an interactive element to this already endearing figurine. Antique examples of Maneki Neko may be made of carved wood, stone and metal, handmade porcelain or cast iron, though these days they are more likely to be solar powered and looking suspiciously like Hello Kitty.
While deeply entrenched in Japanese culture, Maneki Neko’s appeal knows no bounds. Its universal message of good fortune transcends cultural barriers, making it a beloved symbol across the globe. Tourists visiting Japan often seek out Maneki Neko souvenirs as tokens of luck and prosperity, carrying a piece of this magical charm back to their homes. Interestingly, our students from Southern Europe tell us that the cat is actually waving, not beckoning … I’ll leave it to you to work that one out for yourself!
If you’d like to take a Maneki Neko home with you, ask the front desk team at Lexis Japan, and they’ll be pleased to point you in the right direction.