Ever wonder about the paw-waving kitties you see in Chinatown or Japanese restaurants? Here’s the story behind them.
Since the Japanese Edo period (1603 – 1868), a cat with a paw raised signifies good Fortune for both individuals and businesses. This cat is known as “Maneki Neko” in Japanese, which means “Beckoning cat.”
Other common names include: Lucky Cat, Money Cat, and Welcoming Cat.
There are a couple of popular legends about the origins of the Lucky Cat. My favourite one is the tells of a wealthy samurai who took shelter from a rainstorm under a tree next to a temple. He noticed a cat that seemed to be beckoning to him, so he followed it inside the temple. Shortly thereafter, lightning struck the tree he had been standing under. Because the cat had saved his life, the man was so grateful, he became a benefactor of the temple and brought it much prosperity. When he passed away, a statue of the cat was made in is honor.
The Significance of the Raised Paw
Right Paw raised: invites money and good fortune (usually to businesses)
Left Paw raised: invites customers or people
(Some suggest the right & left paws both invite business-related prosperity, but that the left paw is for businesses of the night, such as bars, geisha houses & restaurants. Use of lucky cats in homes is more recent)
Both Paws raised: invites protection of home or business
Coin: wealth and material abundance
Bib and Bell: may relate to protection, as well as wealth and material abundance
The Symbolism Behind the Colors
Calico: Traditional color combination, considered to be the luckiest
White: Happiness, purity, and positive things to come
Gold: Wealth and prosperity
Black: Wards off evil spirits
Red: Success in love and relationships
Green: Good health
The Meaning Behind What the Cat Is Wearing and Holding Maneki Neko is a finely dressed cat usually adorned with a bib, collar, and bell. In the Edo period, it was common for wealthy people to dress their pet cats this way; a bell was tied to the collar so that owners could keep track of their cats’ whereabouts.
Fortune Cat figurines often holding other things in their paws. These includes:
A koban worth one ryo: This is a Japanese coin from the Edo period; a ryo was considered to be quite the fortune back then.
The magic money mallet: If you see a small hammer, this represents wealth. When shaken, the mallet is supposed to attract wealth.
A fish, most likely a carp: The fish is symbolic of abundance and good fortune.
A marble or gem: This is another money magnet. Some people believe it’s a crystal ball and represents wisdom.
If you ever travel to Japan, visit :
Maneki Neko Museum of Art in Okayama Official site: http://manekineko-m.jp/index.html
Maneki Neko Museum in Aichi Official site: http://www.luckycat.ne.jp/index.html
Last year Bellevue Arts Museum exhibition highlighted the unique selection of more than 150 cats collected by maneki neko aficionado Billie Moffitt, as well as interpretations of this tradition by renowned contemporary artists. Whether carved in wood or stone, sculpted in clay or formed in papier mâché, these alluring and enigmatically artful felines express aspects both of historic Japanese lore and contemporary pop culture. This was the largest exhibition outside Japan (USA).
Artists included: Diem Chau, Joey Chiarello, Jeffry Mitchell, Saya Moriyasu, Moxie, Yuki Nakamura, George Rodriguez, Maki Tamura, Jason Walker, and Patti Warashina.
Watch the interview about the exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh2rIxk_LTo
(also featured at the top of the post)
Bellevue Arts museum is now showing the Origami art.
“Folding Paper: The Infinite Possibilities of Origami” (until September 21, 2014)
Official website: http://www.bellevuearts.org/exhibitions