A stoic or jovial-looking cat trinket invites you into a shop or eatery. That’s the Maneki Neko, arguably the world’s most famous cat.
This cute little puss seems to be everywhere. Maneki-Neko designs can be found on piggy banks, socks, curtains, and in popular culture.
But why do people find this statue so interesting, and what does it mean?
Maneki Neko ( beckoning cat in Japanese) is a figurine of a cat sitting with its front paw raised in greeting. This little welcoming cat has different meanings depending on its color.
Even though the Maneki Neko can be found in many Chinese restaurants, it is Japanese. It is a lucky charm created in the 17th century.
Common in Japanese storefronts, the trinket brings its owner prosperity, good fortune, and happiness.
This ceramic figure has stood the test of time and is so revered in Japanese tradition that it has its commemoration day on the Japanese calendar. It bridges the gap between the past and the present.
As it’s the case for many mythic figures, there is no single, definitive history of where the Maneki Neko first appeared.
Maneki Neko: the beginnings of the legend
There are different origins for the Maneki Neko.
The first is the Gtoku-Ji temple, located in the Setagaya neighborhood in Tokyo. Legend says that a regional lord during the Edo era ( from 1603 to 1868) named Li Naotaka was engaged in falconry.
One night when a storm broke out, the abbot’s cat invited the lord to seek refuge in the Gtoku-Ji. By doing so, the feline also saved the man from a lightning strike.
Therefore, Li Naotaka named the animal the temple’s protector. Since then, people have revered the puss, with many statuettes of this lucky cat still present at Gōtoku-Ji.
Another legend exists in Tokyo, dating back to 1852. It’s the tale of the Imado shrine’s lucky cat, Maru-shime No Neko.
Then, an older woman was so destitute that she could not provide for her pet cat. Hence, she abandoned the pet.
However, the critter appeared in the older woman’s dreams and pleaded with her to make statues so that it would carry on bringing her luck.
She complied and made the ceramic feline statuettes. Later the poor woman sold them for a good price, allowing her to escape poverty.
If the precise origin of the Maneki Neko remains unknown, the various legends serve as a reminder of the cat’s significant cultural significance in Japan.