By Julia Williams
As good luck charms go, the Maneki Neko is perhaps the cutest one of all. Of course, as a cat lover I am probably biased, but still – the friendly feline known around the globe as Maneki Neko is pretty darn adorable, don’t you think? Chances are, you’ve seen one of these little cat statues sitting at the entrance of your favorite Japanese or Chinese restaurant, or some other place of business. You might even have one displayed in your home. But while that sweet, smiling cat beckoning you with an upright paw might look modern, the Maneki Neko is actually an age-old custom that dates back several centuries, to Japan’s Edo Period (1603 to 1868).
What is the Maneki Neko?
The Maneki Neko is a popular Japanese sculpture that’s believed to bring good luck. Maneki Neko means “Beckoning Cat,” and it’s often called that and other names including Welcoming Cat, Lucky Cat of Japan, Money Cat, Fortune Cat and Prosperity Cat. The cat figurine, typically made of ceramic, is often placed by the front door of businesses and homes to welcome guests and attract wealth. Though the Maneki Neko originated in Japan, it’s now found worldwide and is a popular collector’s item.
Although I’ve seen many different interpretations of the Maneki Neko – including one that bears a striking resemblance to another Japanese icon, Hello Kitty! – they usually always have a red collar and red ears. Some have a bell on their collar, while others have a koban (a gold coin from the Edo Period.) Many also carry a scroll bearing the message “Please come in. You are welcome!”
Maneki Neko Symbolism
There are two versions of Maneki Neko, each with a different meaning. With its left paw raised, Maneki Neko welcomes customers and guests; with its right paw raised, Maneki Neko invites good luck and money. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with displaying both versions to cover all the bases!
Opinions differ on whether the Maneki Neko is a male or female, but most agree that the cat is a Japanese Bobtail. This ancient breed comes in many different colors, but the original Maneki Neko statues were calico, or mi-ke which means “three fur.”