The maneki-neko has long been a talisman of good luck in Japan, and visitors are likely to see the unusual “beckoning cat” displayed in shops and homes all over the country. There are all sorts of lucky cat figurines and charms that are believed to bring good fortune to the owner, with different meanings related to which paw is upraised, as well as different reasons for their colors and decorations. The little cat figurines are most often made from ceramic, and the adorable felines sit with one or both paws raised in the eastern gesture of welcome, with the paw beckoning visitors to enter the business or dwelling.
Lucky cats are not only crafted from porcelain, but are also sometimes made from plastic with a motorized mechanism that causes the upraised paw to move back and forth in the beckoning gesture. Japanese lucky cat talismans also come in the form of coin banks, key chains, houseplant pots, air fresheners, toys and tee shirts.
Meaning of Raised Paws and Different Colors
Although meanings can differ from one region to another, most often if the lucky cat's left paw is uplifted, it will bring in customers, and if the right paw is raised it will bring money to the owner. The raised left paw cat is best for attracting customers to drinking establishments, and someone who can hold his liquor in Japan is called hidari kiki, left-handed. The higher the paw is raised, the better the luck, and both paws raised bring double the luck.
White is the most common color for maneki-neko, which is the general color for good luck in Japan. Black lucky cats are for good health, and gold lucky cats mean financial good fortune.
Lucky Cat Folktales
The question of the origins of the maneki-neko has no definitive answer, because there are so many different legends and folktales that exist in Japan concerning the good luck feline. It is commonly accepted that the first lucky cat figurines appeared sometime during Japan's Edo period, probably the early 1800s, although some of the folktales place the creation of the maneki-neko in the 17th century. We've collected a few of the most popular lucky cat tales to share with you:
The Stray Cat and the Tavern: The down-on-his-luck owner of a failing tavern discovered and took in a stray cat, when he barely had food to feed himself. The grateful cat sat outside the tavern door and beckoned customers to come inside. Intrigued, new customers began coming to the tavern and business thrived.
The Warning Cat: A wealthy nobleman on a journey noticed a cat by the roadside who seemed to be beckoning to him. The curious noblemen left the path to follow the cat, and thus avoided an ambush.
The Temple Cat: (also warning) A wealthy nobleman was seeking shelter from a thunderstorm beneath a tree near Gotoku-ji Temple, when he saw a cat in the temple doorway beckoning to him. Just as he walked toward the cat, lightning sruck the tree.
More Souvenirs from Japan are here.