Friday, October 15, 2010

Maneki Neko: The Lucky Cat

It may come as a shock to some of you, but I like to collect cat stuff(!). And one of my favorite things to gather are lucky cats, otherwise known as Maneki Neko. While commonly seen, many people do not know the story behind these intriguing "beckoning" kitties.

This Maneki Neko is made entirely out of paper!

Simply put, the Maneki Neko is "a common Japanese sculpture, often made of ceramic, which is believed to bring good luck to the owner."

Groovy cyclops Maneki Neko. I love this color combination!

The Maneki Neko is based on a real life cat - The Japanese Bobtail.

This dazzling Hello Kitty Maneki Neko is covered in 62,000 Swarovski crystals!

The sculptures come in all different sizes and styles, and their meaning differs based on color and how their paw is positioned.

According to Wikipedia, "Maneki Neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised (and sometimes both). The significance of the right and left raised paw differs with time and place. The most common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while a right paw brings wealth and good luck, although some believe the opposite. It is commonly believed the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck."

White Maneki Neko Purity and Creativity - Lucky Cat Crochet Shop, $25.00

Maneki Lego!

Another common feature of the Maneki Neko is a neck decoration, such as a collar, bib, or bell. They are also often seen holding a gold coin called a koban, which was used during the Edo period in Japan.

A lucky cat stand I encountered on
Nakamise-dōri outside of Sensō-ji Temple in Japan.

In an interesting fusion of American and Japanese culture, AFLAC has combined their duck mascot with the Maneki Neko to create a Maneki Neko Duck, which has been used to promote the insurance company in Japan since 2009.

Some beautiful beckoning cat tattoos:

So where did the Maneki Neko come from? There are many legends and stories about the origins of the fortunate feline. The first written evidence of the mystical cat came in a Japanese newspaper in 1876, and another ad from 1902 indicates that they were popular by the turn of the century.

The Top Three Maneki Neko Legends:

The Temple Cat: This story goes that a wealthy feudal lord was taking shelter under a tree near Gotoku-ji temple (in Western Tokyo) during a thunderstorm. The lord saw the temple priest's cat beckoning to him and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by lightning. The wealthy man became friends with the poor priest and the temple became prosperous. When the cat died, supposedly the first Maneki Neko was made in his honor.

The Courtesan: A courtesan named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her. One night, the cat began tugging at her kimono. No matter what she did, the cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat bewitched, cut its head off. The cat's head then flew to the ceiling where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.

The Old Woman: An old woman living in Imado (eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.

Lucky Cat Candy, yum! The packaging is what gives this plain, white candy its cuteness.

So there you have it! No matter which origin story you believe, it's clear that Maneki Neko have very deep roots in Japanese culture. It's also nice to know that sometimes cute collectibles also have special meaning behind them! For more detailed information on Maneki Neko, click here.

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