With its paw raised to mimic the Japanese “come here” hand gesture, the Maneki Neko, or “beckoning cat” is a statue synonymous with good fortune.
Found all over Japan, as well as on the counters and cash registers of businesses all over the world, statues of the lucky cat can be purchased in many colours, sizes and styles, but most often appears in white, gold or black.
Modelled on the Japanese bobtail breed, the Maneki Neko wears a red collar with a gold bell and is often depicted holding a “koban” – an early monetary unit used during the Edo period.
Like the oval gold coin, the Maneki Neko also originated in Edo period Japan. Legend tells of a cat that, by raising its paw, beckoned a passing samurai into a ramshackle temple seconds before a heavy downpour.
Thankful his hair didn’t get wet, the samurai gifted the temple, called Gotokuji, with money to renovate. This lead to the creation of the equation “waving” kitty = wads of cash. At some point afterwards, statuettes were made to commemorate it..
Today, Tokyo’s Gotokuji temple is inundated with Maneki Neko figures, leading to it being colloquially known as “the cat temple”.
With its “kawaii” design, its polite, palm down, hand gesture and its promise of financial success, Maneki Neko is the perfect souvenir to bring back from Japan. But don’t worry if statues are not your thing, the feline-of-fortune also appears on practical items like t-shirts, keyrings, socks and underwear.
In addition to mementos, you can also find the Maneki-Neko in films, specifically the 2014 horror movie, As The Gods Will. In it, a giant, demonic Maneki Neko terrorises a group of high school students dressed as mice.
Something that Hello Kitty, the other Japanese, whiskered, icon, would never do. But then, according to her creators, she’s not actually a cat.
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