Maneki neko literally translates as “beckoning cat” and they’re beckoning an increase in custom in recent years as their rich Japanese history and cultural symbolism make them an authentic and thoughtful Japanese gift. Japanese Lucky Cats are commonly used as mascots or talismans, bringing good luck to households, happiness and success to individuals, and wealth and prosperity to businesses.
History of the Lucky Cat
From ancient days, many stories have been told about maneki neko and there are many legends which surround the origin of the lucky cat. Here are just three of the most common legends:
1) The first, and most popular legend, dates back to the Edo period (1603 – 1867) and refers to a local priest who was assigned to look after the Gotoku-ji Temple in Tokyo. He kept a cat and despite his poverty, he often shared his limited food and resources with his cat. One day a heavy rainstorm set in and a traveller who was sheltering under a tree spotted the cat in the temple, beckoning him inside.
He followed the cat inside the temple and shortly thereafter, lightning struck that same tree and so the cat had saved the travellers life. Grateful for the cat’s actions, he became a wealthy benefactor of the temple and brought it much prosperity. When he passed away, a statue of the cat was made in his honour.
2) The second legend is a much more gruesome one and refers to a young geisha girl. One day her beloved cat was tugging on her kimono playfully. The owner of the brothel however thought the cat was possessed and sliced off the cats head with a sword! The flying cat head landed on top of a snake who coincidently was about to strike at the women and therefore saved her life. The geisha was so distraught about the loss, one of her customers made her a statue of her cat to cheer her up.
3) Another lesser-known legend refers to an old woman living in eastern Tokyo. Due to extreme poverty, she was forced to sell her beloved pet cat. Soon afterwards, her cat began to appear in her dreams and told her to create a clay statue of the cat. She did as instructed and sold the statue for a good price. Soon after, more and more people wanted to buy the cat statue so she continued to make them and became very rich from it.
Lucky Cat Colours
A common misconception about lucky cats is that they all hold a generic meaning of luck and good fortune. However, the diverse range of lucky cat colours that you can choose from all hold a very specific symbolism, making them much more personal when bought as a gift.
White: White lucky cats are said to bring happiness to their owners, they provide purity and indicate that there are positive things to come.
Black: Black lucky cats are said to ward off evil spirits and protect their owners from any immediate danger or risk. They protect the household and provide safety.
Green: Green lucky cats invites good health for the owner and brings about academic success, it is recognised that you need good health to enjoy success in wealth or academia.
Red: The red lucky cat provides protection for the owner from evil spirits and protects the entire household from illness.
Pink: A pink lucky cat attracts love and romance and secures a loving and harmonious relationship.
Gold: A gold lucky cat brings good wealth and fortune to the owner.
Lucky Cat Posture
In the same way colours hold a special symbolism, the posture of a lucky cat also provides a variety of meanings. In Japan, beckoning lucky cats are often placed in shop windows and restaurants to invite custom and prosperity. The symbolism of lucky cats for businesses is often determined by their gestures, particularly the position of their paws:
Raised Left Paw: If the left paw is up, the lucky cat is said to attract customers or visitors to establishment, an ideal gift for restaurant or shop owners.
Raised Right Paw: If the right paw is up, the lucky cat is said to attract wealth, success and prosperity, again a great gift for a business establishment.
Both Paws Raised: A lucky cat with both its paws raised is said to combine the two – bring customers and attract wealth and fortune to the establishment.
For more information on lucky cats and their meanings, read our informative guide on all the things you can look out for when purchasing your lucky cat.
Lucky Cats are the Perfect Lucky Gift
Lucky cats make the perfect lucky gift to bring good luck, fortune, health and happiness to its recipient. Rich in ancient tradition, the Japanese also invest a strong belief in the power of a lucky cat and believe they are a great mascot to have by your side.
Not only do they provide a fun and interesting talking point amongst guests their all-round lucky power make them a well-received gift for anyone. If you are still unconvinced about the love we all should have for lucky cats (how could you?!) read our 10 reasons why Japan is a cat-lovers paradise and find out why the Japanese continue to celebrate the power of the lucky cat.
If you’re feeling like you’re in need of some good luck then have a look at our range of Japanese Good Luck Charms including Maneki Neko, Daruma and The Seven Lucky Gods. If you liked this post and would like to read more like this then feel free to follow The Japanese Shop on Facebook and Twitter for regular blog posts on Japanese Culture and Tradition.