Lucky Cat (Maneki Neko)

Country: Japan Category: Culture By: yayasilver
Lucky Cat (Maneki Neko)
The Maneki Neko, literally "Beckoning Cat", also known as Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat, Money cat, or Fortune Cat, is a common Japanese sculpture, often made of porcelain or ceramic, which is believed to bring good luck to the owner. The sculpture depicts a cat (traditionally a Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed--usually at the entrance--in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. In the design of the sculptures, a raised right paw supposedly attracts money, while a raised left paw attracts customers.

To Americans and Europeans 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 Westerners and the Japanese, with Japanese beckoning 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 Western markets will have the cat's paw facing backwards, in a beckoning gesture more familiar to 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. The most common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while a right paw brings wealth and good luck, although some believe the opposite. 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 hidari-kiki in Japan, or "left-handed".)

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.

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.

Maneki Neko are sometimes depicted holding a coin; usually a gold coin called a koban, used during the Edo period in Japan. A koban was worth one ryo, another early Japanese monetary unit, though the koban most Maneki Neko hold is indicated to be worth ten million ryo. A ryo can be imagined as worth a thousand dollars, although the value of the coin, like the value of the dollar, varied considerably. The coin obviously ties into the cat's part in bringing good fortune and wealth. It is not surprising then that one can often find Maneki Neko used as 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 is a practice somewhat related to that of leaving coins in a fountain or wishing well.

While it is believed that Maneki Neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period (1603-1867) in Japan, the earliest documentary evidence comes from the 1870s, during Japan's Meiji Era. It is mentioned in a newspaper article in 1876 and there is evidence kimono-clad Maneki Neko were distributed at a shrine in Osaka during this time. An ad from 1902 advertising Maneki Neko indicates that by the turn of the century they were popular. Beyond that, the exact origins of Maneki Neko are uncertain.

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