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Maneki Neko

Maneki Neko Meanings

8 min read

If you travel to Japan, you will see small statues of cats in front of the entrance of bars, shops and restaurants. They are also found in Japanese houses in the form of moneyboxes. This Japanese cat is called a Maneki Neko (招き猫).

Meaning of Maneki Neko

The maneki neko is a Japanese lucky cat. Maneki neko literally means "the cat who invites" in Japanese. This traditional Japanese statue is placed on the fronts of shops to attract good fortune.

Very popular in Japanese folklore, this ceramic statuette crosses time and is even honored with a day of celebration on the Japanese calendar. It's considered as a lucky charm such as the Daruma Doll or the Omamori.


Maneki neko


The Legends of Maneki Neko

In this part, we are going to present you the greatest legends of Maneki Neko which is one of the great symbol of Japanese folklore and more and more anchored in the Asian culture.


The Maneki-Neko and the Buddhist Sanctuary

In this sanctuary lived some very poor monks. One day, a hungry Cat arrived near them in the hope of receiving some food and that's what happened. The monks shared their meal with the Cat and the Cat stayed with them.

Since then, the sanctuary ignored by the visitors became a must and the custom was born of bringing a Maneki-Neko as an offering to see his wishes come true.


The Maneki-Neko and the Geisha

Maneki neko painting

In Tokyo there was a tea house called "The Golden Cat", which was run by a Geisha. Unfortunately business was very bad and in order not to force the Geisha to close the store, an admirer of this woman offered her a very large sum of money. It was stolen money, and the man felt so guilty that he committed suicide in the Sumida River.

The Geisha, blinded by this proof of love, also followed him into death. This double suicide made the house very famous and the merchants had the idea to take the Cat as a symbol of fortune. This is the birth of Maneki-Neko.

The maneki neko and the geisha can be found everywhere in the Japanese culture as for example on trendy hooded sweaters but also on t-shirts in the hot season of the country of the rising sun.


Maneki-Neko and the Old Woman

Maneki neko mask


Here, the story takes place in Yasakusa, east of Tokyo and more precisely in Imado. A very poor old woman lived in this area to the point where she had no choice but to sell her Cat to survive. A few days later, her pet appeared to her in a dream and ordered her to create a clay statue in her image.

Very quickly, the woman obeyed and created the statue which she later sold. Seeing that her statues were very popular, she created others and sold more and more of them. Very popular, her statues allowed the old woman to become rich enough to never experience poverty again. Since that day, the Imado region is very popular for her Maneki-Neko dolls.

The Maneki-Neko of the Temple

Maneki neko statues

Also during the Edo period, an old priest in need of money lived with his Cat, Tama, near his temple. Despite his poverty, the old man shared his food with his pet. On a rainy day (yes, again), the priest wanted to make tea, but unfortunately, he realized that he had no more tea. When he was at his lowest ebb, the old man begged his Cat if he could help.
Then, just as the man was heading towards the tomcat, the tree was struck by a powerful lightning bolt! In gratitude, believing that the Cat saved his life, the man used his money and fame to improve the temple and the lives of all the people around him!

The Japanese temple has been restored from the poverty of the old priest and today the Japanese decorate their houses with these small statuettes.


The Maneki-Neko and the Samurais

maneki neko samurai

During the Edo period, a group of samurai traveled through a violent storm where thunder and lightning reigned in the area. The warriors see a tree where they could shelter from the rain while the weather calms down. Moments later, the Samurai notice a seated Cat that seemed to be trying to attract them by waving its paw. Instinctively, the Samurai approach the small cat. Just as they were moving away from the tree that protected them from the rain, the cat was struck by lightning!

In a state of shock, the survivors offer gifts and presents to the temple, owner of the lucky Cat, as a sign of eternal gratitude. Since then, the Cats are considered as benevolent spirits.

Origin of Maneki Neko

We begin this article with a controversy, indeed, its origin is disputed by both traditions, a struggle between the Chinese and Japanese tradition on the origin of its creation. However, we have done our little bit of research and although the Chinese can justify that the lucky cat comes from their ancestral culture and their age-old tradition, unfortunately the real lucky cat is Japanese. In fact, its name Maneki Neko means in Japanese "Lucky cat" or "cat that attracts", if it were Chinese it would be known as Zhaocai Mao.

maneki neko

It is generally associated with the Chinese culture and more particularly with a traditional Chinese proverb: "When a cat rubs its head to the ears it means that it is going to rain".

  • In the first of these two tales, we are told the story of a wealthy man who was caught in a heavy storm, panicked, and in search of shelter, he found refuge under a tree that stood right next to a temple. It was at this very moment that at the entrance to the temple appeared what appeared to be a cat waving at him with its small paw, inviting him to enter the temple. Following the advice of this apparition, he took shelter inside the temple, running toward the temple in the thundering rain, heard a loud noise from his former refuge, turned around, and saw that lightning had struck the ancient tree with all its power, tearing through the wood that had grown stronger over the years. The man interpreted that the cat had saved his life, and he devoted all his fortune and his life to the prosperity of the temple. When the cat who had saved his life was abandoned, he ordered that a statue be built in his honor, which in time would be named Maneki Neko.


  • The other tale of origin is slightly more sinister. Let us take you into the dance of words telling the incredible story of Maneki Neko. Once upon a time, there was a geisha who had a cat that she cherished more than anything else in the world. One day while putting on her most beautiful kimono, the treasure of her life threw itself out and attacked the fabric. The master of the house believed that the cat had lost his head, that he was possessed by demonic forces as he attacked the young geisha. With a lightning fast gesture, he grabbed his katana and precisely cut off the cat's head. The head fell on a snake that was preparing to attack the geisha, which saved the young lady's life. The latter was unable to find comfort from the death of her cat, her savior, so one of her clients, sad to see her like this, offered her a statue of the cat in order to comfort her.

These are the two stories of the lucky cat Maneki Neko who is so much represented in the ultra trendy fashion style of Japanese culture.


The place of Maneki Neko in the Japanese tradition

As this adorable little cat is a lucky cat, you will use it as a decorative object but especially as a lucky cat for your home both to protect your house but also to bring you luck or love or money.

If you own a store it is important to own a maneki neko to bring you luck and success in the
business. Of the month it is what the Asians think and believe! Ideally and if you have a business it is in the window that you will have to place your maneki neko. If you place it in your home we recommend you to
put in your entrance hall to carry good vibes and welcome your guests with good luck but also to leave negative thoughts at your door.

The gesture of Maneki Neko

The hypotheses around the existence of the lucky cat are directly linked to the gestures of the small feline statue. Naturally, several theories have emerged trying to explain the rising popularity of the lucky little cat. This is where we will find out if it is a Chinese cat or a Japanese cat !

We have seen in some legends of Maneki-Neko that the famous gesture of this Cat Statue comes from the fact that the Cat was washing himself just before a miracle happened. This gesture also originates from an ancient Chinese proverb that said "The cat that washes its face, goes through the ear, until the guest arrives".


lucky charm cat

In China and Japan, the gesture of waving to come is also close to that of Maneki-Neko . Moreover, depending on the paw used to signal, the meanings are different:

When the Maneki-Neko's right paw is raised, it calls for fortune. This type of statuette is used a lot in restaurants as well as in shops and even in houses to maximize the chances of earning more money, to succeed in business or to attract miracles.
When the Maneki-Neko's left leg is raised, it calls out to guests and customers. This statuette is then used more at work.
The different meanings of the gesture may vary according to the time and the region. For example some say the inversion of the legs used for each meaning. It is also believed that the higher the leg of the Maneki-Neko is and the more it attracts luck, the more luck will come from far away.


Maneki Neko accessories

There are several accessories of maneki neki that make it sublime and a representative of Japanese folklore:

  • This is the large golden coin that the maneki-neko wears, either in one leg or around his neck, called the koban . It is about an old Japanese currency which was worth one ryo, an old Asian currency ! it is necessary to retain that this gri-gri symbolized the richness of the statue, that it is compared to the material used (often out of ceramics, porcelain or even gold) and compared to the power of the maneki-neko.
  • The maneki-neko are represented with a necklace with its golden bell with a small bib. These small accessories are directly inspired by the domestic cats belonging to the owners, often wealthy, of the Edo era. A collar made from hichirimen (a Japanese flower) and a bell to recognize the small animal. The wearing of the decorative bib, on the other hand, would come from bodhisattvas.
japanese maneki neko

Popularity of maneki neko

The Maneki Neko is very popular in the Japanese culture especially there are dedicated festivals but also fashion or manga.

  • The manga with for example Pokemon or the Evil Maneki Neko is the cat of jessy and james of the rocket team.
  • The Japanese Maneki Neko Matsuri Festival where people make up themselves in Maneki neko to symbolize this porcelain statuette.
miaousneko cosplay


The Maneki Neko neighborhood

The maneki neko temple is located 10 minutes walk from the train station in a beautiful residential area. In Setagaya, there are no multi-story buildings or large avenues, but one-way streets that wind between beautiful houses and small buildings. Lots of greenery, small stores, children coming back from school, retired people on bicycles... We have the impression to have teleported outside Tokyo!

The afternoon was already well started because of the "transport" dumpling, and the closing of the temple was dangerously approaching. We thus preferred to advance without too much loitering on the way in order to benefit from the little luminosity which remained to take a picture of the maneki neko. The maneki neko are hidden in the enclosure to the left of the temple, along a secondary wooden pavilion. It is a paradise for photographers.



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