The maneki-neko (Japanese: 招き猫, literally "beckoning cat") is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman) which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. In modern times, they are usually made of ceramic or plastic. The figurine depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed in—often at the entrance of—shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, laundromats, dry cleaners, salons, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning.
Maneki-neko comes 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. It is also sometimes incorrectly called the "Chinese lucky cat" because of its popularity 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 down, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back, thus the cat's appearance. Some maneki-neko made specifically for some Western markets will have the cat's paw facing upwards, in a beckoning gesture that is more familiar to most 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 statue with the left paw raised is to get more customers, while the right paw raised is to get more money. Hence it is also said that the one with left paw is for business and the right is for home.
Some maneki-neko feature battery- or solar-powered moving arms endlessly engaged in the beckoning gesture.
Originally, the maneki-neko is in white. But over the years with the combination of Feng Shui, different color variations were born. The original white color is to get good luck and overall good fortune, while black is to ward off evil, red is for good health, yellow or gold is for wealth, and pink is for romance.
Antique examples of maneki-neko may be made of carved wood, stone and metal, handmade porcelain or cast iron.
It is commonly believed that Maneki-neko originated in Tokyo (then named Edo), while some insist it was Kyoto. Maneki-neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period in Japan. The earliest records of Maneki-neko appear in the Bukō nenpyō's (a chronology of Edo) entry dated 1852. Utagawa Hiroshige's ukiyo-e "Joruri-machi Hanka no zu," painted also in 1852, depicts the Marushime-neko, a variation of Maneki-neko, being sold at Senso temple, Tokyo. 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. In his Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, China's Tang Dynasty author Duan Chengshi (803?–863) wrote: "If a cat raises its paw over the ears and washes its face, then patrons will come". Statues of cats washing their ears (though very different in style to Maneki-Neko) have been found as early as the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 to 534 AD).
There are many legends about the birth of Maneki Neko, but the most popular is the legend of Gotoku temple.
In the 17th century, a poor monk lived in a small temple in Tokyo. Although his life is very difficult, he still shares his meager meal for his pet cat Tama. One day, Lord Nakaota Ii of Hikone district on the way to hunt, suddenly a storm came and he had to stay safe under a big tree near the temple.
He noticed that the cat raised one leg as if waving him to the temple. Curious, he left his cover, headed for the temple to have a better look at the strange cat. At the same time, a lightning bolt destroyed the tree he had just stood.
Nakaota was so grateful, he became the patron of the temple, repaired it to become more spacious and renamed it Gotoku temple in 1697. When Tama died, he was buried in the graveyard for the cats. In the temple and the statue of Maneki Neko was made to commemorate this special cat that has been born since.
The name Maneki Neko (kanji: 招 き 猫 hiragana ま ね き ね こ) can be interpreted as a Waving Cat or a Chant of a Chant.
Maneki-neko is the subject of a number of folktales. Here are some 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 sits in the front of the store beckoning customers, thus 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.
In popular culture
Because of 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"). This cat is also prevalent in China domestically, and is usually referred to as the followings: simplified Chinese: 招财猫; traditional Chinese: 招財貓; pinyin: zhāocáimāo.
The Pokémon named Meowth is based upon the maneki-neko.[dubious ] Unlike traditional Maneki-neko who hold the Koban coin, Meowth has the coin projected from its forehead. Meowth can fire this coin as a projectile weapon with its signature move Payday.
- Daruma doll
- Hello Kitty
- Jin Chan (Money Toad)
- Koban (coin)
- Meowth (Pokémon)
- Neko chigura
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