Maneki Neko - Japanese Lucky Cat - Meaning and Origin

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Have you ever seen a cat ornament in a store or place that beckons? This cat is called Maneki Neko [招き猫] or the cat that invites, also known as the cat of luck and money. In this article we will see some curiosities and meanings.

It is not a breed of cat or a living being, but a sculpture, usually made of ceramics, the sculpture shows a cat, usually a Mi-ke (Japanese Bobtail) who is also considered a lucky cat.

Most cat ornaments, with raised paws and waving, are placed in commercial establishments, temples, restaurants, even at home, almost always at the entrance, to welcome the guest or client.

Cats used to be used to protect the silkworms from mice that ate silkworms. With the decline in the creation of these animals, cats ended up being considered a lucky charm for business prosperity.

The meaning of the Japanese Lucky Cat

The word manekineko literally means cat waving or inviting. If a cat is raising its right leg, it is inviting you to fortune. If he is raising his left paw, he is inviting a person or client.

Some cats raise both hands, but many people don't like it, considering a lot of greed. Usually these cats have three colors, but all white, white with red, white with black or red and black are common.

These cats can also be found in pink, blue and gold, and the meanings vary depending on the color, such as "academic improvement", "traffic safety" (blue) and "love" (pink).

In ancient Japan, the black cat is considered a symbol to ward off evil. In addition, waving red has the meaning of preventing disease, because it is said that red is a color that is not appreciated by bubbles and measles.

Furthermore, the fact that the Kanji of fortune is written upside down, indicates the arrival of a similar kanji from there, as it defeats fortune.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Characteristics of Maneki Neko

Today in popular culture, maneki neko has the same meaning, that of luck, money and welcome, but like all things, its uses and meanings have expanded. See below for some other popular features of lucky cats in Japan.

  • Some are electric and the paw moves slowly;
  • Maneki has several colors, the most common being white, black, gold and even red;
  • In addition to sculpture, it can be found in the form of key chains, piggy banks, air purifiers, vases for plants and among many other items;
  • The raised right leg attracts money and the raised left leg attracts customers;
  • Some may confuse Maneki's gesture, but in reality, he is trying to attract attention, kind of calling people, and not just waving;
  • The composition of the oldest Maneki Neko, can be made of carved wood or stones, handmade porcelain or cast iron, the most expensive can be made of Jade and even Gold;

The maneki neko can be found on the third floors of some buildings, as it is believed that it may have something to do with number 3, due to the auspicious qualities, the maneki neko can also be used as a lucky charm, students often use it to get good grades and success in their future lives.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Marushime no Neko

Marushime no Neko [丸 〆 猫] is a waving cat ornament from Imado-yaki (type of pottery), popular in the Asakusa Temple and Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo. It is believed that these ancient places and cats that today are rare, gave rise to Maneki Neko.

This is the oldest waving cat model that actually looks like the current model. The cat is sitting on its side inviting with its head forward, some may be lying down.

The character [〆] around the posterior waist of the Marushime no Neko means the rounding of money and fortune. These cats were popular at the end of the Edo period, were excavated and confirmed as the oldest and most reliable cat.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Origin of Maneki Neko - Waving Cat

We have already seen that possibly the Maneki Neko originated from the formerly popular marushime no neko. There are actually several theories about the origin of the waving cat. What do you think of seeing other origins of the Japanese lucky cat?

The first records of Maneki-neko appear at the entrance to Bukō nenpyō (an Edo chronology) dated 1852. One ukiyo-e Utagawa Hiroshige of 1852, depicts the marushime-neko being sold on Senso-Ji templein Tokyo.

There is evidence that Maneki-neko kimono dresses were distributed in a shrine in Osaka at that time. This creates several theories about the origin of Maneki-Neko, some insist that it was in Tokyo, others insist on Kyoto.

Imado Ware Theory

In the geography of the Edo period “Takee Chronology”, Kaei 5 (1852), an old woman who lived in Asakusa Hanakawado gave up her beloved cat because of her poverty, but the cat appeared on the dream pillow and said: If you make a doll of mine, you will be lucky.

Then she transformed a cat-shaped doll into an Imado-yaki pottery and sold it at the Asakusa Shrine which quickly became popular. Furthermore, the existence of the waving cat made by Imado-yaki in the Edo period can be confirmed by ancient traditions and artifacts excavated in the ruins, which correspond to the description of Kaei 5.

Furthermore, since the beginning of Heisei, the Imado Shrine, which is enshrined in Asakusa Imado, rides the waving cat boom. You can see a big cat waving in the main sanctuary, but it has no historical evidence.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Hotoku-ji Theory

Some say the lucky cat originated at the Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. During the Edo period, Ii Naotaka, second lord of the Hikone Clan, passed a small temple called Kotoku-in on your way back from hawk hunting.

At that time, a cat belonging to the temple monk waved at the temple gate, so the feudal lord and his party stopped at the temple to rest. Then a storm started to fall.

Naotaka was happy to be spared the rain, and in 1633 he donated a large sum of money to Kotokuan and designated it as the family temple of the Ii family in Edo, and Kotokuan became a great temple, Goutokuji.

About half of the successive feudal lords and their official chambers are buried here, as well as the tomb of II Naosuke, a feudal lord at the end of the Edo period who was murdered in the Sakuradamon-gai Incident.

When he died, the monk built a grave for him. In later times, a cat room was built on the temple grounds and a statue of a cat raising a hand was made in the form of Manekineko.

There is another story about the same Goutokuji temple. When Naotaka and his retinue were sheltering from the rain under a tree at the Goutoku-ji Temple, a cat waved them over to the temple. When Naotaka approached the cat, lightning struck the tree where they had just taken shelter from the rain.

In the story, Naotaka thanked and donated a large amount of money to Goutokuji. The famous character based on these cats is “Hiko-nyan”, the mascot of Hikone Castle in the city of Hikone, Shiga Province, the former home of the Ii family.

Generally, a manekineko is displayed with his right hand or left paw, but all manekineko sold on the grounds of the Gotokuji Temple are displayed with his right without any bags.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Neko Jizo Theory

There is a theory that it originated in Jiseiin, in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. During the battle of Numabukurohara in Ekoda, a black cat appeared in front of Ota Dokan when he was outnumbered and lost, and waved him over to come to Jiseiin.

This led to a successful rebirth of the temple, and Ohta Dokan dedicated a statue of Jizo to the cat, which is said to be the origin of the "Manekineko" through the cat Jizo.

The other is that a wealthy merchant lost a child in the middle of the Edo period and dedicated a cat-faced statue of Neko Jizo to Jiseiin to pray for the rest of his soul. Anyway, this is the origin of Neko Jizo and not Manekineko.

Other theories

There is a theory that the sanctuary Fushimi Inari Taisha in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, it is the birthplace. There are many other theories, such as the Seiho-ji origin theory and the popular belief theory in Toyoshima-ku, Tokyo, it is not clear which one is correct.

There is also a theory that the model of the waving cat may be the result of a hair cleaning action that the expenses do. In English, this action is called grooming which is the grooming of hair (When a cat is licking its paws).

There is one Japanese legend, which says that a cat washing its face means that new customers are coming, another Chinese proverb says that a cat washing its face means that it will rain.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Tokonyan - The Giant Cat Waving

In the city of Tokosuri in Aichi Prefecture, there is a street called Tokoname Maneki Neko Douri with a train station and a ceramic salon on site. There we find a gigantic waving cat called and Tokonyan [とこにゃん].

Tokonyan is 6.3 meters wide and 3.2 meters high. In addition to the "Tokonyan", there are 39 ceramic cats waving and 11 ceramic cats on display, all to advertise Japan's largest ceramic cat manufacturing site.

Another famous production area is the city of Seto in the same province, both of which are mainly made of ceramics. In addition, it is produced in the suburbs of Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Maneki Neko in China - Chinese Lucky Cat

Even in China, you can see a golden cat waving. Many have an “oval shape” with a raised left hand. Since the boom of lucky cats in Japanese culture in the 1990s, many stores in Taiwan have the same type of cats waving in their stores.

Waving cats are popular in the Chinese city of New York, USA, are common in establishments and restaurants, even causing some to confuse being a Chinese lucky cat.

Lucky cats are also popular in the United States and are also made as souvenirs and exported around the world. They are called "welcome cats", "lucky cats" and even dollar cats. However, the direction of the cat's hand is opposite to Japan, as the way of waving in the west is different.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

Japanese Bobtail - Mi-ke - Lucky Cat Breed

The Japanese Bobtail or mi-ke [三毛] is a breed of cat originally from Japan. The Japanese Bobtail is believed to be mi-kê bring luck, happiness and prosperity, having your greatest representation in Japanese temples and establishments, having the use of welcoming.

Bobtail appeared in Japan in the 7th century. This breed variety probably came from China, because China has been sending its cats to Japan for over 1000 years. The breed became popular in the 90s thanks to the influence of the USA.

The name mi-ke [三毛] highlights exactly one of its characteristics. The number 3 [三] represents the number of colors the cat has. [毛] already represents your fur. Thus indicating that mi-ke literally means 3-color hair.

To learn more about the breed behind the lucky cat, we recommend reading our Mi-Ke article - Japanese Bobtail.

Maneki neko - japanese lucky cat - meaning and origin

September 28 - Maneki Neko Day

On September 29, the “Day of the Cat that Invites” is celebrated or manekineko no hi [招き猫の日] established by Japan Invited Cat Club and certified by Japan Anniversary Association. Around Saturdays and Sundays before and after this day, the Festival do Maneki Neko Fuku is carried out in the cities of Ise in Mie, Seto in Aichi, Shimabara in Nagasaki, and many other cities.

Finally, let's leave a video of our friend Crazy Japan TV:

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