Maneki-Neko Meaning

Maneki-Neko Meaning


You have discovered it in Japanese animated movies or during your last trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and you want to know more about this mysterious object ? In this article, we will reveal you all the secrets of the Japanese Lucky Cat to understand everything there is to know about the Maneki-Neko Meaning !

The Maneki-Neko ( 招き猫, meaning ‘Beckoning Cat’ in English) is a traditional Japanese ceramic or porcelain lucky cat statue with the appearance of a sitting cat with one or both paws raised at ear level.

Having become a famous international symbol thanks to its appearance in different types of media, here is everything there is to know about the magnificent Maneki-Neko Lucky Cat! #intro

Maneki-Neko History

antique maneki neko

The history of the Maneki-Neko goes back a few centuries. Many historians seem to think that the first appearance of the Japanese Lucky Cat dates back to a certain period of the 19th century during the Edo Period.

Originally from Tokyo or Kyoto, the first transcripts talking about this object appeared in the Bukō nenpyō’s (a chronology of Edo) from 1852. During this period, many documents established that the first Maneki-Neko were sold at the Senso temple, in Tokyo. Shortly afterwards, during the years 1876 and 1877, many newspapers reported that the 1st Kimono-clad Maneki-neko were distributed at a shrine in Osaka.

However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the growing popularity of the Maneki-Neko Lucky Cat made its demand grow exponentially to the point where it found its way into the vast majority of physical stores at the time.

Maneki-Neko Name Pronunciation

Maneki-Neko Pronunciation

To understand how to spell it, it is important to understand that the word Maneki-Neko consists of 3 Kanjis:

– The combination of two kanjis 招き (Ma-neki) which comes from the verb “Ma-neku” (招く) which means “Inviting” in Japanese

– And the kanji 猫 (neko) which means « Cat » in Japanese

Concretely, the name Maneki-Neko literally means “the cat who invites”.

Maneki-Neko Design

The Maneki-Neko are traditionally designed as a young cat with ears up in the air, holding a Koban coin and with one of both paws raised into a beckoning or waving gesture.

Maneki-Neko Colors Meaning

maneki neko colors

Although most often white, Maneki-Neko has an impressive array of different colors, each of which is associated with certain attributes; again, interpretations may vary:

Tricolor Maneki-Neko Meaning

tricolor maneki neko

The Maneki-Neko is white with black and red spots. These colors are considered a powerful lucky charm, it is the most popular color for Japanese Lucky Cats. This may be due to the rarity of this color in Japanese bobtails, the breed of cat that serves as a model for maneki-neko. In Japan is called “triple fur”.

White Maneki-Neko Meaning

white maneki neko

White is the second most popular color among Maneki-neko statues which is a symbol of purity in Japanese Culture

    Black Maneki-Neko Meaning

    black maneki neko

    Although in the West, black cats are reputed to bring curses and bad luck, in Japan, the Black Maneki-neko is supposed to ward off evil spirits and are very popular with women because they are supposed to ward off aggressors. 

      Red Maneki-Neko Meaning

      Red maneki neko

      Red is the color of life and is supposed to bring Heath to its owners. 

        Gold Maneki-Neko Meaning

        gold maneki neko

        Gold is associated with wealth and is supposed to bring its owners wealth success in business.

        Pink Maneki-Neko Meaning

        pink maneki neko

        Not a very traditional color, but nowadays Pink Maneki-Neko are very popular and associated with love.

        Green Maneki-Neko Meaning

        green maneki neko

        In Japanese culture, green is associated with success in school and university. It is therefore not uncommon to see Green Maneki-Neko during exam periods.

        Yellow Maneki-Neko Meaning

        yellow maneki neko

        Yellow is associated with the couple and is supposed to bring stability and prosperity between two people.

        What is written on Maneki-Neko ?

        The Maneki-neko are often designed with a large golden coin, called koban, where is written a worth value of ten million Ryo.

        Koban Coin

        koban coin

        Koban coins have been used in Japan during the Edo Period and had a worth value of one ryo, another ancient Japanese currency. However, Koban coins held by Maneki-neko were most commonly marked as worth ten million Ryo. 

        This play is strongly in line with the role of the maneki-neko’s fortune-taker. It is therefore not surprising to find maneki-neko piggy banks, a practice that dates back at least to the 1890s, such as the western piggy bank from Europe and America.

        A common custom in Japan is to place a few small coins beside the maneki-neko as offerings. This practice is similar to the custom of throwing coins into a wishing well or fountain.

        Maneki-Neko Paw

          What people mistake as a gesture of welcoming is in fact derived from the movement of the cat cleaning its ear which is probably originating from a Chinese proverb of the la Dynasty Tang:

           « The cat who washes his face, goes through the ear, until the guest arrives. » (in Chinese: 猫洗面过耳则客至, māo xǐmiàn guò ěr zé kè zhì).

          This gesture is also close to the way the Chinese or the Japanese wave to come which is interpreted totally differently by other cultures.

          Indeed, for Europeans and Americans, the Maneki-neko looks like they are saying “goodbye” rather than inviting them to come. This mistake comes from the differences between the gestures used in the Far East and in Europe: the Japanese invite by raising their hand palm forward and lowering and raising their fingers several times like the maneki-neko gesture.

          To solve this issue, some cats for the Western market have been designed specifically with the palm facing backwards, in a gesture of invitation, more easier to interpret for the customers.

          It is also generally believed that the higher the cat raises its paw, the more luck it attracts. Therefore, the paws of maneki-neko have become higher and higher with the times; some can even guess the time of a maneki-neko at the height of its paw. It is also sometimes said that the higher the cat lifts its paw, the more luck comes from far away.

          Maneki-Neko Left or Right Paw ?

          Maneki Neko Left or Right Paw

          Depending on the situation and the place where the magic of Maneki-Neko has to act, the choice of the raised paw differs, which brings an interesting diversity in terms of design.

          Maneki-Neko Right Paw UP

          Maneki-Neko with the right paw raised are male versions which are used to bring success and wealth. They are more commonly used at home.

          Maneki-Neko Left Paw UP

          Maneki-Neko with the left paw raised are female versions is supposed to bring guest (Customers). They are more commonly used at work.

          Moving Maneki-Neko

          Some Maneki-neko have an electric paw, powered by a battery or by a solar collector, which is constantly moving while repeating its welcoming gesture.

          Maneki-Neko Accessories

          Maneki-neko often wear something around their neck, it can be a scarf for example, but most often it is a red necklace with a bell and a decorative bib.

          These objects probably imitate the ornaments worn by cats in the rich homes of the Edo period. Red collars made from a red flower, hichirimen, were decorated with small bells that were used both for decoration and to tell where the cat was.

          The bib could also be related to those that often adorn the statues of the deity Jizo Bodhisattva. Protective statues of Jizo are found at the entrances of Japanese temples and cemeteries. Jizo is the protector of sick and dying children, and parents of healed children come to decorate Jizo’s statues with a bib as a sign of gratitude.

          Maneki-Neko Material

          Maneki-neko are usually made of porcelain or ceramic. However, cheaper statues can be made from other materials such as plastic, wood, paper or clay, while precious maneki-neko can be made from jade or gold.

          However, Solar moving maneki-neko are usually made of plastic. 

          Maneki Neko Legends

          Lots versions and legends on the origin of this tradition exist in the Japanese Culture; here some of them are detailed below :

          1. The temple cat

          A group of samurai, or in some versions, a feudal lord of Hikone’s domain, or even a Japanese emperor (Oda Nobunaga, the samurai Ii Naotaka, etc.) passed in front of a temple on whose forecourt a cat was basking.

          As the samurai stopped to look at the cat, the cat, sitting on his seat, “greeted” them by raising his paw to his ear. Intrigued, the samurai approached the cat. It was then that they avoided a trap (rain, lightning) set where they were.

          Very grateful, they made donations to the temple when they became rich, and the cats were considered wise spirits and bringers of good fortune.

          2. The temple cat (2nd version)

          In Japan, during the Edo period in the 17th century, there was a very poor priest who was the guardian of a temple on the outskirts of Tokyo. This good and generous priest shared his meager food with his companion, a cat named Tama.

          One day, particularly cold and rainy, the priest wanted to make tea to warm himself up, but he fell into deep despair when he realized that he did not even have tea anymore. Overwhelmed with pain, the priest began to cry and asked his cat, in desperation, if he could help him and the temple, before falling asleep from exhaustion.

          His cat, rather perplexed, went to sit by the temple entrance door and began to clean himself, as cats do, by licking himself and placing his paws against his head.

          A very wealthy man, lost in the torments of the storm, was seeking shelter under a tree when he saw the cat outside the temple door, which, as it cleaned itself by passing its paw over the side of its face, seemed to invite the cat to come to shelter. Intrigued by this sign of welcome, and perhaps of fate, the man went into the temple for shelter.

          Moments later, lightning struck the tree under which the man was standing and the man exploded on impact. The rich man considered that the cat had saved his life, and seeing the priest’s living conditions and the condition of the temple, decided to use his money and influence to restore the temple and improve the lives of those who lived there.

          Thus, thanks to the cat, the Japanese temple was saved and the old priest lived happily and contentedly. When the cat died, a statue was erected of him with his paw raised in remembrance of that day.

          The local people, considering that the cat had brought wealth and good fortune to its owner, began to place cat figurines with its paw raised in their houses and stores. Thus began the history and development of maneki-neko throughout Japan.

          3. The Japanese courtesan

          A courtesan named Usugumo, who lived in Yoshiwara, east of Tokyo, had a cat that she loved very much. One night, the cat began to pull on her kimono. No matter what she did, he continued.

          Seeing this, the owner of the brothel thought the cat was bewitched and beheaded him. The cat’s head flew towards the ceiling and crushed a snake that was there, ready to strike at any moment.

          Usugumo was devastated by the death of her cat, and to console her, a customer had a wooden statue of her companion made. This statue was the first maneki-neko.

          4. The old Japanese lady

          An old woman who lived in Imado, east of Tokyo, was forced to sell her cat to survive. Very quickly, her cat appeared to her in a dream. He told her to make her statue out of clay. She obeyed, and then sold the statue.

          Later, she made others, and people bought them. The statues became so popular that the old woman became rich from them.

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