You must have seen them at least once in your life. If you’ve ever been to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, or an Asian supermarket, you’ve probably noticed little cat figurines perched quietly at the cash register. He raises his hand as if to say goodbye to you even if we see later that this is not quite the case.

If you ask what the Maneki Neko (means beckoning cat) is to those around you, you will most certainly be answered that it is a lucky charm.

Apart from finding him really cute, few people know the origins of this cat still sitting with one paw raised and left or right, for that matter? Read interesting facts about Maneki Neko Cat figurines.

maneki neko cat
Manekineko Cat

Origin of the Maneki Neko Cat

The Maneki Neko first appeared in Japan during the Edo period (17th century to mid-19th century) as the “beckoning cat “. 

It was and is a symbol of good luck and wealth; the cat was a favored pet among the animals of high society during this time. It was common to see cats in disguise or go out for a walk on a leash with their owners to try to attract the admiration of passers-by.

There is some debate about which city claims its origin, but the most enduring legend is that of Gotokuji in the Setagaya district of Tokyo, where the original cat breed has its own temple.

We will see this legend in the next part, as well as some others.

The Maneki Neko Cat and its legends

No one can quite agree on how the first Maneki Neko came to be. However, as we have seen previously, the legend Gotokuji seems to be the best known.

The legend of the Samurai

According to local traditions, when Gotoku-Ji Temple was just a simple hut in the 1400s, the monk who lived there struggled to make a living from his meagre income. Despite this, he had a cat he loved so much that he shared his little food with him. In return, he only asked the cat to bring him good fortune.

One day, Lord Li Naotaka and his Samurai from Hikone district, near Kyoto, got caught in the rain near the temple, returning from hunting. Taking refuge under a nearby tree, he saw a cat beckoning him to come and take shelter in the courtyard. No sooner had he entered than the tree was struck down by lightning.

The monk served them tea and shared his teachings with them.

Amazed by the words of the monk, and by the fats the cat had saved his life, the man was so grateful that he donated rice fields and farmland to the temple, which made it the great sanctuary that it is today.

When the cat died, it was buried in the Goutokuji Cat Cemetery and the statue of the Maneki Neko was made in honor of the cat. 

According to some, the Maneki Neko has since been regarded as the embodiment of Shobyo Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, the deity who watches over and protects people in the earthly realm. Goutokuji Temple is now home to dozens of statues of this legendary cat, and owners of sick or lost cats come to the temple to lay prayer panels with the image of Maneki Neko.

 The legend of the Geisha

During the Edo period, in Yoshiwara – the eastern part of Tokyo, lived a courtesan named Usugumo. She adored cats and kept them pet by her side all the time.

One evening, as she was on her way to the bathroom, her cat started to pull violently on the hem of her kimono. The poor beast refusing to let go, the owner of the entertainment house where she worked, came to her aid and, suspecting the animal of being bewitched, tore its head off with his sword.

The head flew up to the ceiling, where it killed a snake, ready to attack Usugumo. She was terribly upset by the unwarranted death of her beloved cat when he only wanted to warn her mistress of the danger.

To make her feel better, one of her clients gave her a carved wooden statuette of the cat, which would later become popular as Maneki Neko.

The legend of the Old Woman

Long time ago, there was a poor old woman who lived in Imado (curently Tokyo East area). She lived with a pet cat in great poverty which forced her to abandon the cat. Shortly after, the cat appeared to her in a dream and asked to make the statue of it in a clay. She did it and to her amazement, people soon asked her to buy the clay cat figurines. The more figurines she made, the more people bought it. With time the old lady become rich.

Maneki Neko Cat Meaning

“MANEKI NEKO” literally comes from the Japanese verb “Maneki” (Invite) and “Neko” (Chat). So Maneki Neko Cat is “the cat who invites “(招 き 猫) or who offers a welcome.

It is one of the most popular lucky charms in Japan as well as in China. But everything is said in the title of this article. This cat, very often in porcelain or ceramic, comes from the Land of the Rising Sun and not from China.

They were designed to attract business and promote prosperity. Often present in store windows, the Maneki Neko sits with its paw raised and bent, inviting customers to enter.

Japanese people have countless superstitions about cats (as in many other countries), giving them or seeing them good or bad powers, malicious attributes or not.

The Maneki Neko is considered as a talisman that is believed to bring good luck and fortune to its owners.

Meaning of the Maneki Neko’s Raised Paw

You are probably wondering why this cat is moving arm? To say welcome? Yes, but to what?

There is actually an explanation behind the side of the paw, which is at the level of the cat’s ear.

According to a study by the Maneki Neko Club in Japan, about 60% of all Maneki Neko talismans lift the left paw, while the rest lift the right paw.

Maneki Neko Left Paw

If it’s the left paw, it is supposed to attract customers or people in general to his store or business.

Some suggest that the right paw and left paw both invite business-related prosperity, but the left paw is for nighttime businesses, like bars, geisha houses, and restaurants. The use of lucky cats in homes is more recent.

Maneki Neko Right Paw

If the right paw is lifted, it invites luck, money, brings good luck and wealth and good fortune (usually in business). For example, piggy banks in the shape of Maneki Neko raise their right paws.

Both Paws raised: invites protection of the home or business.

The distinction seems somewhat ambiguous: more customers means more money, right? Most of the Maneki Neko of old were left-handed, but the growing thirst for money in contemporary Japan means that more and more cats today are calling on their right paws.

Different colors of the Maneki Neko

While you will most often see a white Maneki Neko with orange and black spots (inspired after the Japanese Bobtail Cat), a popular and traditional color for cats, there are a few color variations of the Maneki Neko, and they each have a specific meaning.

Maneki Neko Accessories

Maneki Neko is a finely dressed cat, usually adorned with a bib, collar and bell. In the Edo period, it was common for wealthy people to dress their cats this way: a bell was attached to the collar so that owners could know their cat’s whereabouts. These sets are now part of the traditional Maneki Neko.

Figurines are found with either.

Festival of Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko day is a Japanese tradition; it takes place every September 29.

The town of Seto in Aichi Prefecture is full of good quality clay, and pottery making has flourished there since ancient times. She is known for the massive production of Maneki-Neko ornaments.

This is why the “Kuru Fuku Maneki Neko Matsuri (Coming Fortune Festival and Maneki Neko), a festival on the theme of the little cat, is organized every year in this same town of Seto.

Where to buy Maneki Neko?

If you are in Japan, you should buy it in the Gotokuji temple. Other options are Chinese supermarket or Amazon.

Maneki Neko – the Japanese Lucky Cat – Pin it for later.