People may or may not be familiar with the term maneki neko. However, chances are good that they have seen a depiction of said animal at some point. This is because the maneki neko is a cat figurine that is believed to bring good luck to business owners as well as other interested individuals. A practice that started up among the Japanese but has since spread to a number of other Asian cultures. As such, people might have seen maneki neko behind the windows of shops, restaurants, and a wide range of other businesses.
1. The Name Means “Beckoning Cat”
Maneki neko is a Japanese term that means “beckoning cat.” As such, it is a very literal name for these cat figurines.
2. The Cat Isn’t Waving
Some people have been known to mistake the maneki neko for making a waving gesture rather than a beckoning gesture. However, it is important to note that the beckoning cat is indeed a beckoning cat. Unfortunately, this kind of confusion can come up when different cultures interpret the same gesture in different ways. To name another example, the ancient Greeks came up with a god of secrets named Harpocrates when they saw ancient Egyptian statues of the child god Horus. This is because those statues showed Horus with a finger to his mouth, which referred to the hieroglyph for “child” but was interpreted as a gesture for silence.
3. There Is a Traditional Maneki Neko
The use of the maneki neko isn’t a new practice. Instead, it is a long-standing one that has managed to continue strong into the present time, so it should come as no surprise to learn that there is a traditional version of the maneki neko. Chances are good that if people have seen a maneki neko, they have seen this version because it is extremely widespread. However, there are other versions of the maneki neko that have started seeing use as well.
4. The Traditional Cat Is a Japanese Bobtail
Since the maneki neko started out as a Japanese practice, it stands to reason that the traditional version of the maneki neko is based on a Japanese cat breed. To be exact, it is based on the Japanese Bobtail, which is best-known because of its natural bobtail that can look more like a rabbit tail than a standard cat tail. In any case, said cat breed has long since spread to other countries, with the result that it is now recognized by either all or almost all registering bodies.
5. The Traditional Cat Is the Most Iconic Version of the Japanese Bobtail
Some cat breeds have very strict rules for both the color and the pattern of their coat. In contrast, others are much more relaxed in this regard. Japanese Bobtails are an excellent example of the latter because they can come in just about any combination of colors as well as just about any number of patterns while still being recognized as members of the cat breed. However, the traditional version of the maneki neko is based on the most iconic version of these cats, which are calicoes that are white for the most part. Such cats show up a lot in Japanese folklore, with the maneki neko being just a single example of this trend.
6. Four Colors Are More Common than Others
Four colors are more common on the traditional version of the maneki neko than others. Unsurprisingly, one of these would be the color white. Meanwhile, black and gold see more use for the patches of color on the predominantly white coat. As for the fourth color, that would be red, which is used for the inside of the ears as well as accents on other parts of the maneki neko.
7. The Japanese Bobtail Became the Street Cats of Japan
It isn’t clear how the ancestors of the Japanese Bobtail made their way to Japan. However, one line of speculation says that they were brought there from the Asian mainland at least 1,000 years ago. After which, those cats proceeded to spread through Japan, helped along by the fact that they were useful for controlling the vermin that threatened the country’s food production as well as other important industries. Due to this, Japanese Bobtails became the street cats of Japan, which might not sound very important but will become much more relevant once the stories behind the maneki neko are explored.
8. The Traditional Maneki Neko Holds a Koban
Moving on, the traditional version of the maneki neko is also known for holding a koban while seated. For those who are curious, a koban is an oval-shaped gold coin with horizontal lines running over its face, which played an important role in the economy of the Tokugawa shogunate. Value-wise, the coin was supposed to represent three koku, with one koku being the amount of rice needed to feed someone over the course of an entire year. In practice, well, suffice to say that the Japanese were like everyone else who used coins made out of precious metal in that debasing of the coinage was a serious issue.
9. Meowth Is Indeed Based on the Maneki Neko
By this point, Pokemon fans might be wondering whether Meowth is connected to the maneki neko or not. After all, said Pokemon is a cat with a koban on its forehead. Furthermore, Meowth’s signature attack sees it throwing coins at its target, which can be picked up once the battle has been completed. If interested individuals are still unsure, this Pokemon was indeed based on the maneki neko. In fact, its signature attack Payday is called “Coin for a Cat” in the Japanese original.
10. Modern Maneki Neko Tend to Be Either Plastic or Porcelain
In modern times, maneki neko tend to be made out of either plastic or porcelain. This makes sense because these are cheap, relatively affordable materials that can be used to create a very wide range of shapes, thus making them perfect for this particular use.
11. Older Maneki Neko Tend to Be Made Out of Other Materials
Naturally, older maneki neko tend to be made out of other materials. Common examples would be wood, stone, and even metal that have been carved into the shape of a cat. However, it was also common for people to make maneki neko out of either porcelain or cast iron. The latter refers to a group of iron-carbon alloys. Something that might surprise people because steel is also a group of iron-carbon alloys. However, cast iron can be differentiated from steel by the fact that it has more than 2 percent carbon content, which makes it very brittle most of the time. On the plus side, cast iron possesses a fair amount of durability while being easy to work with.
12. The Exact Paw that Is Upraised Can Have Extra Meaning
People should have no problem finding both maneki neko with an upraised left paw and maneki neko with an upraised right paw. In fact, they might be able to find maneki neko that have both paws upraised, which are rare but nonetheless something that sees enough use for them to be commented upon. It is interesting to note that the exact paw that is upraised can have extra meaning. Supposedly, a left paw upraised is meant to bring in more customers while a right paw upraised is meant to bring in more money. As such, the former is meant for businesses while the latter is meant for homes.
13. Both Tokyo and Kyoto Are Said to Have Been the Place of Origin for Maneki Neko
Both Tokyo and Kyoto are said to have been the place of origin for maneki neko. In the grand scheme of things, Tokyo is a relatively new city. There has been human settlement of the region for quite some time. However, Tokyo didn’t become truly important until Tokugawa Ieyasu was relocated to the Kanto region from his ancestral homeland of Mikawa in 1590. After which, he went on to win the Battle of Sekigahara after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, with the result that he became the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. Thanks to this, Tokyo became the center of Japan throughout said system of government. Something that continued even after its end. Meanwhile, Kyoto was the home of the Japanese imperial court ever since it relocated from Nara towards the end of the 8th century.
14. The Maneki Neko Might Be Connected to Earlier Beliefs
The earliest mention of a maneki neko was in 1852. However, it is possible that these cat figurines are connected to even older beliefs. Some people have noted that the cat’s beckoning looks a lot like a cat washing its face, which is relevant because there is an older Japanese belief that a cat washing its face meant that a visitor was about to arrive. It isn’t difficult to see how this belief might have evolved into the modern belief, though an actual connection remains unconfirmed at this point in time.
15. One Story Says that the Maneki Neko Was Inspired By a Temple Cat
There are a couple of common stories for how the maneki neko. One says that the original maneki neko was a temple cat. In short, a poor monk at a small Tokyo-based temple took in a street cat even though he himself didn’t have enough to eat. One day, a samurai took shelter from a storm beneath a nearby street. However, he decided to visit the temple when he saw the cat making a motion as though it was beckoning to him, which proved to be very lucky because a lightning bolt blasted down the tree as soon as he had headed out. In gratitude, the samurai became the patron of the temple, thus bringing about a dramatic improvement in its fortunes.
16. The Samurai Is Said to Have Been Ii Naotaka
Speaking of which, the samurai in the story isn’t a generic samurai. Instead, he is said to have been Ii Naotaka, a real individual who was around for the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate. To be exact, Naotaka was the son of Ii Naomasa, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s generals who is said to have died an early death because of a bullet wound sustained towards the end of the Battle of Sekigahara. Naotaka himself participated in the later Siege of Osaka, which cemented Tokugawa rule by eliminating Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son Toyotomi Hideyori.
17. The Other Story Says that the Cat Was a Business Cat
In any case, the other story of the origin of the maneki neko was similar but not quite the same. Once again, a poor man took in a street cat even though he himself was struggling to get enough food to eat. However, he was a small business owner rather than a monk in this story, though the exact kind of small business owner can see significant variation from telling to telling. In gratitude, the cat started sitting in front of the business to beckon in customers, thus bringing about a reversal in fortunes all on its own.
18. The Maneki Neko Is Popular in Chinese and Vietnamese Communities
As mentioned earlier, the maneki neko has spread to other cultures. In particular, these cat figurines are extremely popular with overseas Chinese communities, with the result that they are common sights in small businesses owned by them. Similarly, the maneki neko is also popular with the Vietnamese, meaning that it is often seen in small businesses owned by members of the Vietnamese diaspora as well.
19. Different Colors Beckon for Different Kinds of Luck
Unsurprisingly, this means that the maneki neko has been influenced by other cultures as well. For instance, different colored maneki neko are sometimes used to beckon for different kinds of luck. The traditional white maneki neko is meant to beckon for general luck. Meanwhile, red maneki neko are meant to bring good health, yellow maneki neko are meant to bring in wealth, and pink maneki neko are meant to bring good romantic prospects. Black maneki neko are also a thing, though they are rather unusual in that they are meant to ward off bad luck rather than bring in good luck.
20. Moving Maneki Neko Are Common
It is common to find maneki neko with one moving arm, which will perform the actual motion of beckoning rather than just project the impression of said gesture. Some of these are powered by batteries. However, there are solar-powered versions as well.