Friday, December 24, 2010

Maneki Neko the Beckoning Cat

One of the first souvenirs I got from Japan was a keychain. It was a little copper cat with its left paw raised and a tiny message stick poking out from the back of its head. My husband had got it for me on his business trip to Tokyo 4 years ago.

I had seen similar images before in many shops in India which sold Feng Shui stuff and at the time I had thought this cat was a Chinese good luck charm. I always had a curiosity about the significance of this cat but it was not till I came to Japan that I learned more about this lucky cat.

This cat is called “Maneki-neko” which translates to “Beckoning Cat”. It is also called as Welcoming cat or Fortune cat and is believed to bring good luck to the owner. This cat resembles a breed of cat which is native to Japan, the Japanese Bobtail. Most often this cat is white in colour but even golden cats are common these days. Usually one paw of the Maneki neko is raised high – to beckon the onlooker. The raised paw can be either left or right but the significance varies for both paws. The raised left paw is to attract money , good luck or wealth while the right paw supposedly protects good fortune, money and wealth. It is also believed that the raised left paw attracts customers and this one is more common of the two. However certain sculptures have both paws raised, perhaps to beckon good fortune and to protect it. This tempted me to pick up this fridge magnet on our recent trip to Kyoto

At times the Maneki neko sculpture has a red collar around its neck which owes its origin to the attire of cats in wealthy families in old days. Sometimes the maneki neko also holds a gold coin in its hand which signifies the association of Maneki neko with the good fortune. No wonder piggy banks resembling Maneki neko are so popular.

Maneki Neko sculptures are usually placed at the entrance of stores, restaurants, gaming parlours and other commercial places. One particular Lottery chain has a giant sculpture or poster outside most of its ticket kiosks. This cat is usually made of ceramic but can be found in plastic, wood, clay metal etc. Now a days battery operated versions with slow moving paws are also available.

Maneki neko souvenirs are available in many forms most popular being keychains, small sculptures, phone accessories, piggy banks, fridge magnets.

Infact there is also a Manekineko museum in Seto town near Nagoya. I havent been there yet so cannot write about it. Check out this link for more information.

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