The maneki-neko (Japanese: 招き猫?, literally "beckoning cat") is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman), usually made of ceramic in modern times, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. The figurine depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed—often at the entrance—in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning. The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, beckoning cat, or fortune cat in English.
Maneki-neko come in different colors, styles, and degrees of ornateness. Common colors are white, black, gold and sometimes red. In addition to ceramic figurines, maneki-neko can be found as keychains, piggy banks, air fresheners, house-plant pots, and miscellaneous ornaments, as well as large statues. Maneki-neko are sometimes called the "Chinese lucky cat", as it is also increasingly popular among Chinese merchants.
To some Westerners (Italians and Spaniards are notable exceptions) it may seem as if the maneki-neko is waving rather than beckoning. This is due to the difference in gestures and body language recognized by some Westerners and the Japanese. The Japanese beckoning gesture is made by holding up the hand, palm out, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back up, thus the cat's appearance. Some maneki-neko made specifically for some Western markets will have the cat's paw facing backwards, in a beckoning gesture familiar to more Westerners.
Maneki-neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised (and sometimes both). The significance of the right and left raised paw differs with time and place. A common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth, although some believe the opposite, or that one paw is for luck and the other for wealth. Another interpretation says that a raised left paw attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it. Still others say that a left paw raised is best for drinking establishments, the right paw for other stores (those who hold their liquor well are called "left-handed" (hidari-kiki) in Japanese). Yet another interpretation is that right is for home and left for business.
It is commonly believed the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck. Consequently, over the years maneki-neko's paw has tended to appear ever higher. Some use the paw height as a crude method of gauging the relative age of a figure. Another common belief is that the higher the paw, the greater the distance good fortune will come from.
Some maneki-neko feature battery- or solar-powered moving arms endlessly engaged in the beckoning gesture.
The most common color is white, followed by black and gold, and occasionally red is used as well. These are traditional for Maneki-neko. Some consider white to be for good luck generally, black for good health, and gold for monetary good fortune.
Collar, bib and bell
Maneki-neko usually have some sort of decoration around their neck. This can be a neckerchief or a scarf but the most common attire is a collar, bell and decorative bib. These items are most likely in imitation of what was common attire for cats in wealthy households during the Edo period. Red collars made from a red flower, the hichirimen, were popular and small bells were attached for decoration and to keep track of the cat's whereabouts.
The bib might also be related to the bibs often decorating statues of the Buddhist divinity called Jizō Bosatsu in Japan. Protective statues of Jizō can be found guarding the entrances to Japanese shrines and graveyards. Jizō is the protector of sick and dying children, and grateful parents of children recovered from illness will place a bib around Jizō as a gift of thankfulness.
Maneki-neko are sometimes depicted holding a coin, usually a gold coin called a koban (小判?), used during the Edo period in Japan. A koban was worth one ryō, another early Japanese monetary unit, though the koban most maneki-neko hold is indicated to be worth 'ten million ryō' (千万両 senmanryō?), an extraordinary sum of money. A ryō can be imagined as worth a thousand dollars, although the value of the ryō, like the value of the dollar, varied considerably. In Japanese, the idiom 'koban to cats' (猫に小判 neko ni koban?) is a traditional saying equivalent to the Western 'pearls before swine'.
The coin ties into the cat's part in bringing good fortune and wealth. It is not surprising then that maneki-neko are often fashioned as coin banks, a practice which goes back at least to the 1890s, much like the Western piggy bank.
Sometimes pennies and other small coin denominations are left on the maneki-neko as offerings. This practice is somewhat similar to that of leaving coins in a fountain or wishing well.
Antique examples of maneki-neko may be made of carved wood or stone, handmade porcelain or cast iron. Modern examples maneki-neko are typically made of ceramic, but can also be made of other materials, including plastic, wood and papier-mâché. Expensive maneki-neko may be made of jade or gold. The moving-arm type are usually made of plastic.
Some believe the maneki-neko originated in Osaka, while some insist it was Tokyo (then named Edo). Maneki-neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period in Japan. In 1876, during the Meiji era, it was mentioned in a newspaper article, and there is evidence that kimono-clad maneki-neko were distributed at a shrine in Osaka during this time. A 1902 advertisement for maneki-neko indicates that by the turn of the century they were popular.
Beyond this, the exact origins of maneki-neko are uncertain, though several folktales offer explanations.
Others have noted the similarities between the maneki-neko's gesture and that of a cat washing its face. There is a Japanese belief that a cat washing its face means a visitor will soon arrive. This belief may in turn be related to an even older Chinese proverb that states that if a cat washes its face, it will rain. Thus, it is possible a belief arose that a figure of a cat washing its face would bring in customers.
Maneki-neko is the subject of a number of folktales. Here are five of the most popular, explaining the cat's origins:
The stray cat and the shop: The operator of an impoverished shop (or inn, tavern, temple, etc.) takes in a starving, stray cat despite barely having enough to feed himself. In gratitude, the cat takes up a station outside the establishment and beckons in new visitors, bringing prosperity as a reward to the charitable proprietor. Ever after, the "beckoning cat" has been a symbol of good luck for small business owners.
The nobleman-warning cat: One day a luminary passed by a cat, which seemed to wave to him. Taking the cat's motion as a sign, the nobleman paused and went to it. Diverted from his journey, he realized that he had avoided a trap that had been laid for him just ahead. Since that time, cats have been considered wise and lucky spirits. Many Japanese shrines and homes include the figurine of a cat with one paw upraised as if waving, hence the origin of maneki-neko, often referred to as kami-neko in reference to the cat's kami or spirit. Depending on version, the story may cast the nobleman as one of various Japanese emperors, as well as historical characters such as Oda Nobunaga and the samurai Ii Naotaka.
The temple cat: This similar story goes that a wealthy feudal lord named Ii Naotaka was taking shelter under a tree near Gōtoku-ji temple (in Setagaya, Tokyo) during a thunderstorm. The lord saw the temple priest's cat beckoning to him and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by lightning. The wealthy man became friends with the poor priest and the temple became prosperous. When the cat died, supposedly the first maneki-neko was made in his honor.
The original story of a waving cat as distributed in Goutokuji temple cat statues shop: The story of a Monk and a waving cat: A long time ago when the temple was a shabby hut and the Monk could barely live on the small income he gained as practicing mendicant. He had a cat and cared for it like his own child, sharing his own meal with it. One day he said to the cat, "If you are grateful to me, bring some fortune to the temple." After many months, one summer afternoon, the Monk heard sounds around the gate, and there he saw five or six samurai warriors on their way home from hawk hunting, approaching him and leaving their horses behind. They said, "We were about to pass in front of your gate, but there a cat was crouching and suddenly it lifted one arm and started waving and waving when it saw us. We were surprised and intrigued, and that brought us to come here to ask for some rest." So the Monk served his bitter tea and told them to relax. Suddenly the sky darkened and heavy rain began to fall with thunder. While they waited a long time for the sky to clear, the Monk preached Sanzei-inga-no-hou (past, present, future reasoning sermons). The samurais were delighted and began to think about converting to the temple. Immediately, one samurai announced, "My name is Naotaka Ii. I am the king of Hikone, Koshu prefecture. Due to your cat's waving, we were able to hear your preaching. This has opened our eyes, and seems to be the start of something new. This must be the Buddha's will." Soon after they returned home, Naotaka Ii donated huge rice fields and crop lands to make the temple grand and generous as it is now. Because of the cat, fortune had been brought to the temple. Therefore, Gotokuji is called the cat temple. The monk later established the grave of the cat and blessed it. Before long the statue of the cute waving cat was established so that people might remember the episode and worship it. Now everybody knows the temple as the symbol of household serenity, business prosperity, and fulfillment of wishes.
The beheaded cat: A young woman named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara in eastern Tokyo, had a cat, much beloved by her. One day, she had a visit from her friend, a swordsman. The cat suddenly went frantic, clawing at the woman's kimono persistently. Thinking the cat was attacking her, the swordsman severed the head of the cat, which flew through the air, then lodged its teeth into and killed a venomous snake on the support boards above, where it had been waiting to strike the woman. After the incident, Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion, and would neither eat nor sleep. The swordsman felt guilty for what he had done and sad for the woman. He went to a woodcarver, who was called "the best in the land", who made him a carving of the cat, a paw raised in greeting. This cat image then became popular as the maneki-neko. When he gave the carving to her, she was overjoyed and lived her life again instead of suffering. A variant has the woman as a geisha, the swordsman replaced with her okiya's (geisha house's) owner, and the wooden cat made by a client of the courtesan lady.
The old woman's cat: An old woman, living in Imado in eastern Tokyo, was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. These maneki-neko were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.
In popular culture
In modern Japanese culture, maneki-neko can be frequently found in rooms on the third floors of buildings, due to the auspicious qualities associated with the number three. Modern Japanese folklore suggests that keeping a talisman of good fortune, such as the maneki-neko, in bedrooms and places of study will bring about favorable results and life successes.
Due to its popularity in Chinese communities (including Chinatowns in the United States) the maneki-neko is frequently mistaken for being Chinese in origin rather than Japanese, and is incorrectly referred to as a "Chinese lucky cat"  or jīnmāo ("golden cat").
As a cultural icon the maneki-neko has influenced many other characters and cultural imagery.
- Science fiction author Bruce Sterling wrote a story, Maneki-neko, in which the cat-paw gesture is the sign of a secret AI-based gift economy.
- Children's author Susan Lendroth wrote a picture book, Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat.
- In the young adult fiction series Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce, the main character has a collection of lucky cats that are based on the maneki-neko, and uses the "Emperor-warning cat" folktale to explain why the cats are considered lucky.
- The Pokémon named Meowth is designed to look like a maneki-neko.
- In the manga and anime Natsume's Book of Friends, the ayakashi Madara takes the form of a maneki-neko.
- In the anime series Good Luck Girl!, when Ibuki injects fortune energy into Ichiko's pet Tama to save her from dying, he ends up using too much and transforms her into a maneki-neko.
- Hikonyan, a mascot character of Hikone Castle is based on a maneki-neko and Ii clan's war helmet.
- In the Nintendo Wii U game Super Mario 3D World as a powerup. Each character has their own form representing some of the different Maneki-neko, with Mario being golden yellow, representing wealth and financial success, Toad and Luigi being blue and green respectively, representing success in academia, Princess Peach being Pink representing success in love, and Rosalina being black, warding off evil spirits. Each character can also become a statue, similar to the Tanooki Suit, which resembles the Manaki-neko.
- Henry H. Calero (2005). The Power of Nonverbal Communication: How You Act is More Important Than what You Say. Silver Lake Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-56343-788-5.
- E. S. Wibbeke. "Gestures around the World". Globalbusinessleadership.com. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
- Shizuko Mishima. "Manekineko: Japanese Lucky Cats". Japan Travel. About.com. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "Maneki Neko". Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 3 August 2009.[unreliable source?]
- Alan Pate (2008). "Maneki Neko: Feline Fact & Fiction". Daruma Magazine. Amagasaki, Japan: Takeguchi Momoko. Archived from the original on 30 December 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
- Mark Schumacher. "Maneki Neko: The Lucky Beckoning Cat". A to Z Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "ひこにゃん プロフィール". Hikone City Sightseeing Promotion Division. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
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- Dale-Green, Patricia, The Cult of the Cat (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963). ISBN 978-0517175002
- Daniels, Inge Maria, 2003. Scooping, raking, beckoning luck: luck, agency and the interdependence of people and things in Japan. Royal Anthropological Institute 9 (4), 619–638. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2003.00166.x
- Masuda, Koh, Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (Kenkyusha Limited, Tokyo, 1991).
- Wellman, Laurel, Lucky Cat: He Brings You Good Luck (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2004). ISBN 0-8118-4121-9.