Maneki-Neko: The Famous Lucky Cat

Have you ever been to a Chinese, Japanese store in any Asian store? If you have, there’s a big chance you’ve seen that adorable waving cat figurine quietly perched on the counter. Many people know this as the Lucky Cat or the Fortune Cat, but it actually has a name – it’s Maneki Neko (招き猫).

Aside from being a symbol of fortune, there’s actually more to this cat than most people know. And being a curious cat myself, I decided to dig deeper into this cute kitty of luck. Join me as we learn more of Maneki Neko, and see how it helps one attract good fortune.

What is Maneki-Neko?

Maneki Neko is a Japanese phrase that literally translates as “beckoning cat.” Traditionally, it depicts a calico Japanese Bobtail cat and is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. You’ll commonly see this cat figurine with one paw raised in the air as if it’s waving.

These figurines are commonly displayed in shops and other businesses because they are known to bring good luck and attract more customers. Hence, the name Lucky Cat, Fortune Cat, Money Cat, etc.

Brief History

The origins of Maneki-Neko goes back to the Edo Period in Japan (17th century to the mid-19th century). There are many famous legends about the origins of the Maneki Neko. Still, the most popular one is said to be about a wealthy lord named Ii Naotaka.

According to the legends, Ii Naotaka tried to shelter himself from the rain by going under a tree near the Gotoku-Ji temple. Lord Ii saw the priest’s cat, named Hanako, beckoning at him and decided to follow him to the temple.

Just then, a strong lightning bolt struck the tree he took shelter in only moments earlier. Moved by his luck, Lord Ii was so thankful for the cat that had saved his life befriended the priest. Lord Ii became a benefactor of the temple and brought much prosperity to Gotoku-Ji with his gifts.

When Hanako passed away, they buried him in a special graveyard for cats. In the temple, a Maneki-Neko statue was made to commemorate this special cat and has been revered ever since.

Fun fact: The Gotoku-Ji Temple, located in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, is known as the birthplace on Maneki-Neko, and when you decide to visit this temple in Japan, you’ll see tons of this Maneki-Neko figurines in one corner of the temple. They come in different sizes too.

Tourists can even buy a lucky cat figurine, make a wish or prayer for good luck on it, and leave it on the temple with the rest of the figurines. You can also take them home and keep them until the wish has been fulfilled. When that happens, it is advised to go back to Gotokuji and put the cat figurine back at the temple to give thanks.

How to pronounce Maneki-Neko?

Maneki-Neko (招き猫) is a Japanese term and is pronounced as:

招 (mahne) き (keeh) 猫 (nehko).

Or

Ma-Neh-Key Neh-Ko.

Not

Man-e-key Knee-ko.

Is Maneki Neko Chinese or Japanese?

Because of its popularity in the Chinese community, Maneki-Neko is often mistaken to be of Chinese origin. It was even known as the ‘Chinese Lucky Cat’ or jīnmāo (“golden cat”).

But that’s not true. Maneki-Neko originated in Japan, not China.

This lucky cat somehow reached the straights of China, where it became popular with many businesses. There was even an old Chinese proverb saying that if a cat washes its face, it will rain. Thus, there is a possibility that the belief of a cat washing its face would bring in customers was brought by this proverb.

China’s Tang Dynasty author, Duan Chengshi, wrote in his Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang: “If a cat raises its paw above the ears and washes its face, then patrons will come.” Statues of cats washing their faces were found as early as the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 to 534 AD).

What gender is Maneki-Neko?

There is no specific gender recorded for Maneki-Neko, so it can be either male or female.

The most famous Maneki-Neko cat breed is the Calico Japanese Bobtail. And since most calico cats are female, people assume that Maneki-Neko is female. However, since there are many varieties of Maneki-Neko (which we will talk about later), that isn’t necessarily true.

What does the raised paw of the Maneki-Neko mean?

You’ll often see a Maneki-Neko holding one paw up in the air like a waving position. But it’s actually different from waving (which is done side to side). The Japanese style beckoning gesture is made by holding up one hand, palm down, and folding the fingers down and up repeatedly.

Because of the difference in body language and gestures recognized by Westerners and the Japanese, a Lucky Cat with the cat’s paw facing upwards, in a beckoning gesture, was made to be more familiar with Westerners.

Different paws raised

Different Maneki-Neko figures have different paw positions. There’s a raised right paw, raised left paw, and sometimes both. Each of these actually has its own meaning.

  • Right paw raised – This is the most common one. A raised right paw is believed to attract wealth and good luck.
  • Left paw raised – The raised left paw is known to attract customers and invite people to come. This is commonly used in business establishments.
  • Both paws raised – A lucky cat with both paws raised is said to be a combination of both and gives protection from evil.

No matter what paw is raised on you, Maneki-Neko, it is believed that the higher the paw is raised, the more luck the cat is to invite!

Aside from having one paw raised permanently in the air, there are also new Maneki-Neko figurines with battery-operated or solar-powered arms that move back and forth, making it endlessly engaged in the beckoning gesture.

What do the different colors of Maneki-Neko mean?

Over the years, there have been multiple colors of Maneki-Neko seen in the market. These colors actually have different meanings and are targeted towards various aspects of your life.

1. Tri-color / Calico

The calico is the traditional and most common type of Maneki-Neko. It is modeled from the Japanese Bobtail cat and is known to bring general good fortune to its owner.

2. White

The all-white Maneki-Neko is believed to bring happiness, purity, and positivity for things to come.

3. Gold

The golden cat is said to bring vast wealth to the person lucky enough to own it.

4. Red

The red Lucky cat is known to ward off illness, especially in children.

5. Pink

The pink cat is for those who are in search of romance because it is supposed to beckon love into your life.

6. Green

The green Maneki-Neko is for those who wish for good health and wellness.

7. Blue

The blue cat is used to attract intelligence, wisdom, and success.

8. Yellow

The yellow Lucky Cat is for people who are looking for stability in health and relationships.

9. Black

This is probably the most interesting one. In western culture, black cats are known as a symbol of bad luck. However, the black Maneki-Neko is known to keep away stalkers and general evil.

What is written on Maneki-Neko?

Maneki-Neko figurines are often seen holding an oval-shaped metal plate with an inscription on it. This golden metal plate is actually a golden coin modeled after a Koban, a gold coin used in the Edo Period. One Koban is equivalent to one Ryo, which is roughly $1,000 by today’s standards. There are different inscriptions seen on these Ryo coins. Here are some of them:

  • Sen Man Ryo (千万両) – This means 10,000,000 Ryo, which is an incredible amount of money, especially during that period.
  • Kai Un (開運) – This means “open luck.”

Some Maneki-Neko figurines also have banners held by one hand or stuck right on their front. These banners also show various inscriptions which read as one of the following:

  • Genkin Manpuku (現金満腹) – Literally translated as “bellyful of cash,” which means getting even more wealth than you’ve wished for.
  • Sen Kyaku Man Mai (千客萬来) – Literally means “1000 customers come.” This is commonly seen on Maneki Neko displayed on business establishments.
  • Shou Bai Han Jyou (商売繁盛) – This means “thriving business.” Another variety usually used in businesses.
  • Kin-Un Sho Fuku (金運 拐福) – This means “to invite in luck in money.”

Other Maneki-Neko Accessories

Aside from gold coins and banners with Kanji inscriptions, Maneki-Nekos is also seen holding and wearing many other accessories. Some of them are as follows:

1. Fish (carp, koi, etc.) – Fishes like carp and koi are known to be a symbol of fortune and abundance.

2. Money Bag – Money bags symbolize wealth, and good luck.

3. Fan – This object represents luck in businesses.

4. Drum – The drum symbolizes a shop that is overflowing with customers.

5. Hollowed Gourds (Hyotan) – The Hyotan is used as a container for Japanese sake and other beverages. This object is also used by Fukurokuju, one of the Seven Lucky Gods who represents wisdom and longevity. The Hyotan is known to cast out evil and bring good luck.

6. Small mallet – A small mallet or hammer represents a magic money mallet that is believed to attract wealth when shaken.

7. Gemstone or marble – A Maneko-Neki holding a marble or a gem is believed to attract wisdom and fortune to the owner.

8. Bib and bell – These are usually worn on the neck of Maneki-Neko and are believed to represent protection, wealth, and material abundance.

Why do Japanese people buy Maneki Neko?

Maneki-Neko became widely popular among Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian countries because of its superstitious wealth attracting abilities. It’s even widely used in the practice of Feng Shui. Many Japanese people buy the Maneki-Neko and use it as a charm to attract good luck and fortune for its owners. It’s also very commonly used as display figures inside businesses in Japan.

Japan is also known to be obsessed with cats (just like their number one character export, Hello Kitty). Not only because they’re cute, but the Lucky Cat’s popularity is also partly because cats are a part of the Japanese folklore. They are believed to have protective powers and symbolize good fortune.  Truly, the spirit of Maneki-Neko.

Maneki-Neko popularity in Japan

Festivals

This lucky cat is widely adored in Japan. In fact, in the city of Seto, in Aichi Prefecture, they celebrate a Maneki-Neko themed festival named “Kuru fuku Maneki-Neko matsuri (Festival of coming fortune and Maneki-Neko).” The festival is held annually on September 29.

There’s also a “Maneki-Neko Art Exhibition,” where they offer lunches in Lucky Cat shaped boxes and paint Maneki-Neko face makeup on for free at the festival. This city has massive production of Maneki-Neko ornaments with various “Fuku-Neko (good-luck cat)” ornaments hidden around 29 locations in the city.

Lucky Cat Train

A “Lucky Maneki-Neko Train” was also made on the 110th anniversary of the Tokyu-Setagaya line, which goes by Gotoku-Ji Temple. The entire train was designed with Maneki-Neko from inside-out.

You’ll also find dozens of Maneki-Neko themed items such as sweets, noodles, dishes, boxes, pouches, and even statues.

Where can I buy Maneki-Neko?

Aside from the traditional figurines, there are tons of Maneki-Neko products you can buy. Many Asian souvenir shops have Lucky Cat products, especially in Chinese or Japanese souvenir shops.

Maneki-Neko shops in Japan

If you’re planning to visit Japan or are currently in Japan, here are some of the best places where you can buy Maneki-Neko products.

  • Gotoku-Ji Temple 

Known as the birthplace of Maneki-Neko, you can buy cat figurines in this temple and make a wish on it. The Gotoku-Ji temple is located in Setagaya City in Tokyo.

  • Tohiken

This is one of the famous sweets shops that sell Maneki-Neko inspired goodies. You will find some lucky cat-shaped butter cookies, Manju or some DIY Monaka – the Anko (sweet red bean paste) filling and wafers. You can find this shop near the Gotoku-Ji Temple in Setagaya.

  • Koide Shoten a.k.a. Orner Koide

This shop specializes in Maneki-Neko souvenirs. A variety of Lucky Cat products in different kinds, styles, and prices can be found here, like figurines, chimes, wall paintings, and more. Their store is located in Kappabashi-Dori, or Tokyo’s Kitchen Street in Matsugaya, Taito-Ku, Tokyo.

If you can’t visit their physical store, you can also order their products from Rakuten.

  • Imado Shrine

Another place where Maneki-Neko was believed to have originated is in the Imado Shrine. The origin story involving the cat, the Geisha, and the snake was said to have taken place here. This shrine is a popular tourist destination, especially to people seeking good luck in love and marriage. It’s because it enshrines a deity couple: Izanagi and his spouse, Izanami.

Besides having tons of feline imagery, including Maneki-Neko, you can find feline figurines for sale in this shrine. You can find the Imado Shrine in Imado, Taito-Ku, Tokyo.

  • Nekoemon Café

For cat cafe lovers who have a creative touch, you can visit Nekoemon Café. This is a cat lover’s haven. You’ll find high-quality figurines, handkerchiefs, and cups with Maneki-Neko imagery. You can even buy an entire rack of ‘birthday Maneki-Neko,’ which are little lucky cat keychains with various designs depending on your date of birth.

You can also buy and paint your own Maneki-Neko figure in this shop. Visit this cafe in Yanaka, Taito-Ku, Tokyo.

  • Sweets Necoemon

Located just right beside Nekoemon Café, you can find different Maneki-Neko sweets and pastry goodies in this shop. There are cat-shaped cakes, cookies, and other adorable goods. You can buy your snack here and head over to its sister shop, Nekoemon Café, to get Lucky Cat souvenirs.

This shop is also located in Yanaka, Taito-Ku, Tokyo.

Other Lucky Cat shops

If you can’t visit these shops in Japan but still want some Maneki-Neko products, you can just order them online through different shops like Maneki-Neko World, Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and more.

Which Maneki-Neko is for housewarming?

Giving Maneki-Neko as a gift always a good idea (especially when the recipient is a cat lover). We’ve talked about the different colors and accessories of Maneki-Neko, so you have to keep this in mind when thinking of giving one as a gift.

If you want to give it as a housewarming gift, your best choice would be the classic tri-colored cat. Any of the accessories will be fine too (except for the fan and drum because it’s mainly for businesses). 

You can also go for the plain white cat if you want to wish them happiness. Or the blue cat, for peace, harmony, and happiness for the family members.. Or even the black cat if you’re going to give the house owner some protection.

Just remember to always choose one made with quality materials, whether it may be ceramic, wood, metal, paper, etc. You may also want to consider ones that have modern designs and a cheerful face to make them more pleasant looking.

Where to place a Maneki-Neko?

Suppose you want to place a Maneki-Neko inside your business establishment. It should automatically be placed near the front door or a public entrance where all who enter can see it. This will help attract more customers as well as good fortune into your business. If that’s not possible, you can alternatively put in the North-East of the business premises.

Having a Maneki-Neko displayed in your house, room or office could also help attract good luck and fortune. However, placement is different from that of a business. Consider the proper placement of this Lucky Cat if you want to get the best out of it.

Furthermore, the different colored cats should be placed in various places too. Here are some tips on where and how to put them correctly.

Note: Consider using a compass to locate the directions accurately.

Tri-color Cat

This classic Lucky Cat is best kept on the wealth corner of your house, usually in your house’s Southeast direction.

White Cat

You can place the white Maneki-Neko in the Northwest part of your home to bring good connections and travel opportunities. You can also put in the North direction for income and opportunity.

Gold Cat

If you wish for more fortune and good luck in your home, you can put the gold Maneki-Neko in the wealth corner or Southeast. You can also put it in the Northwest part of the house for the breadwinner or the man of the house for better networking opportunities. For generating more income, salary increases, or business opportunities, place it in the North direction.

This golden cat can also be used to wish for prosperity and creativity for your children. Do this by placing it on the West corner of your home.

Pink and Red Cats

If you’re wishing to enhance your romantic relationship, place these Lucky Cats in the Southwest part of the house. You can also attract fame if you put it in the South corner of your home.

Black and Blue Cat

You can set your Black or Blue cats in the North direction for prosperity. For protecting and enhancing health, place it in the East. But if you want to activate wealth and protect the female of the house (example: a pregnant wife), put it in the southwest corner.

Green Cat

Enhance your education, travel, writing, and romance by placing a green Maneki-Neko in the South or Southeast part of the house. It can also be set in the South area to enhance your fame and success.

What should you do with a broken Maneki-Neko?

If you happened to have one of those ceramic Maneki-Neko figurines and it gets broken or shattered, it’s best to replace it with a new one. Mainly because in Feng Shui, it’s considered unlucky to keep broken or chipped items in your home.

But if it’s the battery-operated Maneki-Neko where the arms are moving, the most common problem with it is the stopping of the arms. If this happens, you can check the batteries and try to replace them instead.

Get a Lucky cat for yourself!

Lucky Cats or Maneki-Neko has appeared in various forms in pop culture. You can see them in literature, anime, and even video games. They are popping out almost everywhere, making their influence even more widespread.

One great thing about that is you can find them quickly and get one for yourself. Whether it a figurine, a charm, a pouch, or any Lucky Cat-themed item is useful. Not to mention, they’re incredibly adorable as well.

Try getting one for yourself and prepare to attract and welcome good luck and fortune on your way!

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