What Is Maneki-Neko? The History Of The Japanese Lucky Cat

Published On: 11/05/2022|By |Categories: Cat facts|3.9 min read|
What Is Maneki-Neko? The History Of The Japanese Lucky Cat

If you\’ve ever travelled to Japan or other parts of Asia, you\’ve undoubtedly seen the miniature maneki-neko waving at you. This beautiful ornament, also known as the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat and happy cat, is said to bring good fortune to the owners. Today, this particular cat is well-known around the world, but the classic fortunate charm goes back to the 17th century and has an intriguing past.

What Is The Maneki-neko Cat?

The maneki-neko is a famous Japanese figure that is said to bring its owner good luck and wealth. They are typically made of ceramic or plastic and represent a Japanese Bobtail cat with one paw lifted in a beckoning gesture. Its paw swings back and forth in a swinging manner, and some have powered arms that allow them to wave all day. Maneki-neko are frequently exhibited at business doors, such as restaurants, pubs, and laundromats, to urge consumers to come inside.


Maneki-neko are usually seen sitting and clutching a koban coin, an oval gold coin from Japan\’s Edo era. It has the word \”sen man ryou,\” which translates to \”ten million gold pieces.\” The beckoning gesture in Western culture is made by putting your index finger out from your clenched fist, palm facing your body. The finger advances towards oneself frequently in an attempt to bring someone closer. In Japan, however, the same welcoming motion is done by putting up the hand, palm down, and folding the fingers down and back again. This is why the maneki-hand neko\’s is pointing downward.

Depending on the owner\’s preference, the cat\’s raised arm can be either left or right. When the maneki-neko raises its left arm, it encourages more clients, but raising its right paw invites prosperity and money.


Colors Of Maneki-Neko And Their Meaning

Maneki-neko are also available in a variety of colors, depending on the sort of good fortune the owner seeks.

  • White represents happiness and purity
  • Black represents safety and wards off bad spirits
  • Red represents protection from Illness
  • Gold represents wealth and success
  • Pink represents love and passion
  • Blue represents academic success; green represents family safety.

Where Did Maneki-neko come from?

Because of its prominence in Chinatowns, the maneki-neko is commonly misidentified as Chinese. However, the figure is said to have first arrived in Japan around the latter portion of the Edo era. The actual origins of the good luck charm are unknown, however one of the first records of the figure occur in Utagawa Hiroshige\’s 1852 ukiyo-e woodblock print from the series, Flourishing Business in Balladtown. It shows the Marushime-neko, a kind of maneki-neko, being sold at Tokyo\’s Senso temple.


The maneki-neko was referenced again in a newspaper article from 1876 during the Meiji era. There is also evidence that kimono-clad maneki-neko were distributed at an Osaka temple during this time period. An advertising for maneki-neko in 1902 reveals that the good luck charms were popular commercial commodities around the turn of the century.

The Legend Of The Lucky Cat

Domestic cats are excellent pets in Western society. However, in Japanese legend, feline companions have protective abilities and represent good fortune. Knowing this, it\’s no wonder that the maneki-neko is said to represent a specific mythical cat.

According to legend, an impoverished 17th-century monk lived with his beloved bobtail cat at the little Gtoku-ji temple in Setagaya, Tokyo. They lived in peace until one day a lord samurai, Ii Naotaka of the Hikone Domain, came to visit. A big storm broke as he was on his way to hunt, and the lord sought cover behind a tree outside the temple.

During his visit, he spotted the monk\’s cat with one paw up, as if waving him into the temple. A lightning bolt struck the tree where he was standing as he walked towards the cat. Naotaka was so thankful to the cat for saving his life that he became a temple sponsor. He assisted in repairing it and making extra room for the needy monk. When the cat died, a statue of maneki-neko was erected to memorialize its life, and the place is still revered today. And it is because of this myth that many people believe beckoning cats are emblems of good fortune.



Do you want to find out more for the Maneki-neko cats? If you can\’t make it to Japan, you may visit the Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has over 2,000 variants of the renowned feline figure.

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