Japanese Lucky Cat

What is Manekineko?

The maneki-neko or beckoning cat is a good luck symbol in Japan. The cats, found in a variety of colours and styles, are usually sitting up with one paw raised in a gesture of beckoning. The Maneki-neko is a common sight in Japan, placed in the entrances of shops and restaurants, in the hope that she will bring good luck and prosperity in the form of customers and extra business. The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat or fortune cat in English. Some maneki-neko feature battery- or solar-powered moving arms endlessly engaged in the beckoning gesture.

Colour and Meanings

The cat's colour, her attire and which of her paws is raised, even the height at which her paw is raised, all has significance. 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.

What colour cat do you want?

  • White cat - brings good luck
  • Black cat- wards off evil spirits and protects from illness
  • Gold cat- brings good fortune
  • Silver cat- brings longevity
  • Pink cat- brings love
  • Yellow cat- brings good relationship
  • Red cat- Protects from illness aswell

The Origin of the Lucky Cat

There are many stories surrounding the origin of the beckoning cat, perhaps the most popular being the Legend of the Gotokuji Temple. This story, which is thought to date back to the beginning of the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), tells of a local priest, who looked after the Gotoku-ji Temple in Tokyo and kept a cat. Despite his poverty, the priest often shared his limited food with his cat. One day, during a storm a samurai sheltering under a tree at the temple saw the priest's cat, apparently beckoning to him to come into the temple for shelter. Just as he approached the cat, a bolt of lightning hit the tree that he had been sheltering under, causing it to crash to the ground where he had previously been standing. Grateful to the cat that had saved his life, the wealthy samurai rewarded the temple with funding for its upkeep and adopted it as his family place of worship. When the cat died, it was honoured by being buried in a special cemetery and a statue was made in his likeness, thus initiating the image of the lucky cat we know today.

How are they made?

Antique examples of maneki-neko may be made of carved wood or stone, handmade porcelain or cast iron. The statues are first shaped using molds and then dried for a week or more depending on the conditions (temperature, humidity...) and the size of the objects. The drying process is natural. They are then placed in a large oven in which the ceramic will harden and get its final finish. Usually the oven starts only when it is full.
The Maneki Neko are then polished and hand-painted.
Golden models go through a second baking step which stabilizes the colour. Because of this second cooking process they are slightly smaller than the other ones. The moving-arm type are usually made of plastic.

By Riya Thapa