Maneki Neko - Japanese Lucky Cat - Meaning and Origin

Have you ever seen a waving cat ornament in any store or place? This cat is called Fuku: Lucky Ise: Shimabara Seto: Seto Shimabara: Shimabara [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 ceramic, the sculpture shows a cat, usually a Mi-ke (Japanese Bobtail) which is also considered a lucky cat.

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

Cats used to be used to protect silkworms from mice that fed on silkworms. With the decline of 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 beckoning or inviting. If a cat is raising its right paw, it is inviting you to fortune. If he is raising his left paw, he is inviting a person or customer.

Some cats raise both hands, but many people don't like it, considering it too greedy. Usually these cats have three colors, but it is common all white, white with red, white with black or red and black.

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

In ancient Japan, the black cat is considered a symbol for warding off evil. Also, red beckoning has the meaning of warding off disease, because red is said to be a color that is not appreciated by blisters and measles.

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

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning cat - meaning and origin

Features of Maneki Neko

In popular culture today, the maneki neko contains the same meaning, that of luck, money, and welcome, but like all things, its uses and meanings have expanded. Below are some other popular characteristics of lucky cats in Japan.

  • Some are electric and the paw moves slowly;
  • The Maneki presents several colors, the most common are white, black, gold, and even red;
  • In addition to sculpture, it can be found in the form of keychains, piggy banks, air purifiers, plant pots, and many other items;
  • The raised right paw attracts money and the raised left paw attracts customers;
  • Some might mistake Maneki's gesture, but actually, he's trying to attract attention, sort of calling people out, not just waving;
  • The composition of the oldest Maneki Neko can be carved wood or stones, handcrafted porcelain or cast iron, the most expensive ones 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 some relation to the 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 beckoning cat - meaning and origin

Marushime no Neko

Marushime no Neko [丸〆猫] is an Imado-yaki (type of pottery) waving cat ornament popular at Asakusa Temple and Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo. These ancient sites and cats that are rare today are believed to have given rise to the 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 facing forward, some may be lying down.

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

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning cat - meaning and origin

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Origin of Maneki Neko - Waving Cat

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

The first records of Maneki-neko appear in the entry of Bukō nenpyō (an Edo chronology) dated 1852. A ukiyo-e by Utagawa Hiroshige from 1852, depicts the marushime-neko being sold in Senso-Ji temple, in Tokyo.

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

Imado Ware's Theory

In the Edo period geography “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.

So, she turned a cat-shaped doll into 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 match the description of Kaei 5.

Also, since the beginning of Heisei, the Shrine of Imado, which is enshrined in Asakusa Imado, rides on the waving cat boom. It is possible to see a big cat waving in the main sanctuary, but this one has no historical evidence.

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning 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 through a small temple called Kotoku-in on your way back from hawk hunting.

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

Naotaka was happy to be spared the rain, and in 1633 he donated a large amount 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 is the tomb of Ii Naosuke, a feudal lord in the late Edo period who was murdered in the Sakuradamon-gai Incident.

When he died, the monk built a grave for him. In later times, a hall for cats 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 entourage were taking shelter from the rain under a tree at Goutoku-ji Temple, a cat beckoned them to come to the temple. As 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 Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture, the former home of the Ii family.

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

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning cat - meaning and origin

Neko Jizo Theory

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

This led to a successful revival of the temple, and Ohta Dokan dedicated a statue of Jizo to the cat, said to be the origin of “Manekineko” through the Jizo cat.

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, 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 unclear which one is correct.

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

There is one japanese legend, which says that a cat washing a 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 beckoning 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 an on-site pottery hall. In this place we found a gigantic waving cat called and Tokonyan [とこにゃん].

The Tokonyan is 6.3 meters wide and 3.2 meters high. In addition to the “Tokonyan”, there are 39 waving ceramic cats 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. Also, it is produced in the suburbs of Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture.

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning 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 lucky cat boom 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, they are common in establishments and restaurants, even causing some to confuse finding 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 in Japan, as the way of waving in the west is different.

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning 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 mi-kê bring luck, happiness and prosperity, having its greatest representation in Japanese temples and establishments, having the use of welcoming.

The 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 features. The number 3 [三] represents the amount of colors the cat has. [毛] represents your fur. thus indicating that mi-ke literally means 3-color fur.

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

Maneki neko - Japanese beckoning cat - meaning and origin

September 28 - Maneki Neko Day

On the 29th of September, the "Day of the Cat that Invites" is celebrated manekineko no hi [招き猫の日] established by the Japan Invited Cat Club and certified by Japan Anniversary Association. Around the Saturdays and Sundays before and after this day, the Festival do Fuku: Lucky Ise: Shimabara Seto: Seto Shimabara: Shimabara 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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