Depending on which culture you come from, you may have different ideas on what a lucky charm or talisman looks like. A lucky charm is something that supposedly brings luck to whoever keeps it. In western culture, the rabbit’s foot, four-leaf clover, and horseshoe are some examples of lucky charms. Another popular lucky charm in western culture is the Maneki-Neko, despite its Japanese roots.
More About the Maneki Neko Statue
Maneki-Neko, when translated directly into English, means “beckoning cat” – with “Maneki” meaning beckoning, and “Neko” referring to a cat. This is exactly what the figurine or statuette (in some cases, it’s a full-blown statue) is – a cat beckoning for someone to come over, or come inside the establishment/place. This gesture is sometimes mistaken for a greeting instead of a beckon by those unfamiliar with the beckoning gesture of other cultures because its palm is faced down. Some versions of the cat have changed it to its palm facing up to make the beckoning clear to western cultures.
The Maneki-Neko goes by many different names in English besides “beckoning cat”. It is also referred to as fortune cat, money cat, cat of Japan, welcoming cat, and lucky cat, among others.
Features of the Maneki Neko
The breed of cat used most often for this figurine is the calico Japanese bobtail, though other colors and breeds are ascribed to the figurine. It can come in an array of different colors, sizes (from as small as 3 cm to 175 cm++) and designs, and it can be constructed out of either plastic or ceramic material. Older versions of these figurines could have been handcrafted from simpler materials such as stone, wood, and metal, while pricier versions are made of gold, silver, or jade.
The “beckoning” or waving of its paw is a tilt; from sitting upright at a zero-degree angle to tilting down to a 90-degree angle, going back and forth, usually using batteries or solar energy as a source of power. Not all Maneki-Neko have this, as some of them are simply still figurines with the paw of the cat up. Depending on what kind of luck you want to receive, the Maneki-Neko waves either its right or its left paw.
Left Paw, Right Paw, or Both?
Beliefs as to what kind of luck each paw brings in varies. There are even some versions of it where both paws are raised. Some believe that when a Maneki-Neko has only its left paw raised, that means it’s trying to bring in customers, while the right paw is inviting in money and good luck. Other people think that the raised left paw invites wealth, which is then kept safe by the other, non-raised paw.
What kind of establishment you want to flourish also dictates which kind of cat you should get. Some suggest that if you were to put a Maneki-Neko in your house, you use the Maneki-Neko with a raised right hand. For your office, business, or restaurant, use the one with the left hand raised. This goes most especially for wishing good luck on a bar or pub. For these establishments, it’s recommended you get the cat with the left paw raised because of a term called “hidari-kiki”, which means left-handed, or “safe drinker”. Perhaps it means they don’t get too rowdy because they drink moderately and smartly with their left hand.
Different Maneki Neko Colors
While one of the factors of good luck is which paw is raised, there’s also the question of what color the cat is. The color and design of the cat do contain meaning. If you have a gold Maneki-Neko, which there are many of, then it brings in good luck with money. A black Maneki-Neko would just be purely indicating good luck in a general sense. The red Maneki-Neko symbolizes good luck with health (not love, as most may think). If someone gives you a yellow Maneki-Neko, that means he or she thinks you’re a good match – be it romantically, or professionally.
For those who want to get lucky with love, find yourselves a pink Maneki-Neko. Orange Maneki-Neko gives luck for safe travels. A green one means safety in general, and luck with academics. The blue one wishes you luck with wisdom and career. If the beckoning cat you bought is purely white, then you have good luck with your sense of happiness. The calico Maneki-Neko, which has spots or patches of brown, black, and/or gray, is supposed to reap you the biggest amount of luck.
Maneki Neko Accessories
It isn’t enough that these figurines come in different colors, designs, and styles, they have different accessories attached to them sometimes too. These accessories are often a bib, bell, and collar – all of which were part of the attire that wealthy families used to dress their cats up in back when Japan was still called Edo. These can also be used to symbolize other things, as the bib can have links to Buddhist traditions of protection.
Sometimes, the Maneki-Neko is found holding a coin. This coin is referred to as “koban”, which was the currency of the Edo period. The amount that the Maneki-Neko holds is worth an exaggerated amount, usually the amount of 10 million, or “senmanryo”. For you to grasp just how much that is, think of it this way – a ryo is worth about a thousand dollars. Therefore you see many Maneki-Neko being turned into coin banks, or why you see people leave loose change near this figurine as an offering, akin to the act of throwing coins in a fountain.
The Origins Of the Maneki Neko Cat
The origin of the Maneki-Neko cat dates all the way back to the later bit of the Edo period, with unresolved arguments as to whether it hailed initially from Tokyo or Kyoto. It was found depicted in literature and art forms as early as 1852. It was mentioned every now and then during the Meiji period in Japanese media, such as advertisements and newspaper articles, and was also given out as gifts
Some think that the pose of the Maneki-Neko resembles a cat cleaning its face with its paw. Coincidentally, there exists an old Japanese belief that when a cat cleans its face like that, a visitor is to be expected. This is also connected to another Chinese belief that says it’s likely to rain soon after a cat cleans its face like that. There are transcripts from old pieces of literature written by Duan Chengshi as early as the mid 800’s, where he directly states that patrons will come to your establishment if a cat washes its face.
Folktales Concerning Maneki Neko
Because the Maneki-Neko's existence inexplicably and randomly popped up in history, there have been many folktales that try to explain the origins of this lucky charm. One of the simplest and widespread folktales is the one where the owner of an almost bankrupt establishment (it could really be anything from an inn to a temple or store) saw a stray, hungry cat, and shared some of his food with the cat. As a karmic response, the cat brought good luck to the owner, as people started coming more often because of the cat’s welcoming beckon.
Another popular story is the story that supposedly took place where Gotokuji Temple is now found. During the early 1600’s, it was a simple temple, which housed a humble monk. That monk had a cat whose name was Tama, whom he shared his meager meals with. During one rainy evening, a wealthy nobleman was coming home from one of his hunting sessions and used a tree to take shelter. That tree just so happened to be right outside the temple, where Tama sat and beckoned him to come in. Once the nobleman followed the cat to enter the temple, a bolt of lightning struck the tree. The nobleman was so thankful to the cat for beckoning him into the temple, that he sponsored it, bringing it (as well as the monk and Tama) much prosperity.
A notable one is about an old woman who was so deep in poverty that she had to sell her cat to make ends meet. One night, she dreamt of her cat, who gave her the idea to recreate his feline image out of clay. Once she did, she sold this product and made a good profit. She made more cat figurines and made a lot of money out of selling it that she was lifted out of poverty.
Find A Store That Offers Maneki Neko for Sale Online
Want a Maneki-Neko of your own, but don’t have the time or money travel all the way to Japan to get one? No worries. There are dozens of stores online that sell these figurines, and they can cost anywhere between the price of $4 for small ones made of cheaper material, up to $2000, if you get the collector’s edition of a beckoning hello kitty plush. Most range around $7 to $16 on average. Amazon has a whole range of designs and colors to choose from, so choose your Maneki-Neko wisely to symbolize the luck you want to attract.
The Maneki Neko in Popular Culture
Though you may find this cat in places like Chinatown, make no mistake. The Maneki-Neko is very much Japanese, perhaps a having a dab in history with some Chinese culture. In fact, it’s so Japanese that they still very much believe in the luck a Maneki-Neko can bring. You’ll find them on the third floors of buildings because of the Japanese favoring the number 3 as lucky. They’re even placed in different parts of the house to influence successful events.
The Maneki-Neko appears in many forms of popular media, examples of which are children’s books, anime, and art. It’s even found video games; specifically, two versions of Paper Mario (Sticker Star and Color Splash), and is named “Cat-o-luck”. The popular Hello Kitty brand also is said to have stemmed from the Maneki-Neko figurine craze. Maneki-Neko is often featured in different anime shows, one of them being the basis of a character (Meowth) in the extremely popular show, Pokémon.
Where to Put Your Maneki Neko
Decided to buy a Maneki-Neko, or already have one in your house? Then the next best thing to do is know where to properly place your Maneki-Neko. Make use of Feng Shui to maximize the luck that this talisman brings. If you want it to bring more luck with money into your home, then take your (preferably gold) Maneki-Neko, and put it in the office of your house. If you don’t have an office, then locate the southeastern side of your house, and prop it there.
Collecting Maneki Neko
Have you fallen in love with the backstory of Maneki-Neko, and how there are so many kinds of them? Perhaps you just find these little figurines cute. Either way, there are many Maneki-Neko enthusiasts all over the world who are building their collection. There are endless designs of these cats that vary from country to country because that’s just how popular this lucky charm is. You can even give it to a friend as a gift. You don’t have to live in Japan to start our own collection. Not only is it a unique and fun item to collect – it could also bring you a whole lot of luck.