From ancient days, many stories have been told about maneki neko, AKA lucky cats or fortune cats. They are commonly used as mascots or talismans, bringing good luck to households, happiness and success to individuals, and wealth and prosperity to businesses. Generally speaking, the meanings of Japanese lucky cats are determined by their various colours, poses and garments.
In Japan, beckoning lucky cats are often placed in the windows of shops 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:
It is often believed that the higher the paw is, the greater the degree of luck.
Many Japanese lucky cats wear a collar, bib or bell around the neck. This probably harks back to the Edo period, when wealthy people used to dress their pet cats in this way, and is commonly interpreted as a symbol of ostentation as well as protection.
Other maneki neko hold or wear additional good luck charms, the majority of which signify wealth and abundance. Someexamples include:
Many lucky cats are also inscribed with kanji characters to emphasise their various meanings.
The cat is not the only animal depicted in engimono (Japanese lucky charms). For example, owl figurines are also very popular. The Japanese word for owl, fukuro, means luck (fuku) and protection from hardship (kurou). Since the Meiji restoration (1868), owls have also taken on their Western significance relating to wisdom and education, giving this particular symbol a wealth of meaning.
Whether or not you believe in their various meanings, lucky cats and other Japanese animal charms make excellent gifts for friends and family members - especially those facing a challenge of some sort, such as an important exam, a new business venture or moving house.
If you're considering buying one, The Japanese Shop has an excellent selection to choose from. Browse our range of lucky cats here.