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We have all seen the cat figures sitting in the windows or on shelves of different stores and restaurants, but many of us may not have questioned its origin or complete significance. The maneki neko- (招き猫), or the beckoning cat, is the name given to all those little cat figurines, which have one paw raised while the other holds an item, most commonly a coin.

This article will be focusing on the maneki neko and the stylistic features of it, such as the posture, color or the item it carries. It is very hard to set an exact standard on what each symbol, posture or color may represent when it comes to the figure. Different people, families and manufacturers may all have different interpretations on the different styles of the figures. For this reason, while mentioning some of the more commonly observed traits and representations, it should be known that a great deal of controversy may be found from other sources.

What it's made of
In general, most of these cats are created to depict a Japanese Bobtail. They are often created out of porcelain, but can also be found made out of a variety of material including wood, clay or even paper maché. In terms of the color of the bobtail cat, the most common one to see is the standard calico cat. It is tri-colored and generally depicted as a white cat with two-colored spots. While different people and manufacturers interpret all the colors differently, this particular cat is most commonly perceived to be the luckiest of all the colors.

Following the calico cat comes the white cat, recognized as a symbol for purity and good things to come. A few of the other colors include the following: black cats to ward off evil; red cats to signify luck in relationships and marriage; green cats to represent health and/or educational success; gold cats to signify wealth; and pink cats, which are a more modern color, to represent luck in relationships.

If you have seen many of these good luck charms, you may have also had the chance to notice cats holding up either their left or right paw, or in some cases, both. For some, this can signify different things, and for others, it may not signify anything at all. In general, it is thought that the left paw is used to attract customers to the store, while the right paw is for attracting money and good fortune. For this reason, maneki neko with their right paws raised are used for piggy banks.

Variety of Beckoning Cats
Others, however, may say that the two paws signify the opposite: that the right paw attracts customers and the left paw attracts money and good fortune. Others will argue that the two are very closely correlated because customers bring money. In the case of having both paws raised, the cat is often thought to be, as one may have guessed, inviting both customers and money.

Another significant factor that may be overlooked is the height at which the paw is raised. The higher the paw, the more luck the cat will bring. Finally, there is one more aspect to the paw that comments on the cultural differences between Japanese and Western cultures. In Japan, the beckoning action is done with the palm facing forward, mimicking the way the cat was made to look. Within Western cultures, the beckoning action is done with the back of the hand facing forward, moving the hand in a motion to bring someone closer. For this reason, a more Western style of maneki neko has been created, depicting a cat showing the back of his paw.

As mentioned before, the beckoning cat is most often seen holding a coin, which is known as koban (小判). Around the time the maneki neko came into existence, the coin that it now holds, the ryou (両), had a large monetary value to it (around one thousand American dollars). Nowadays, the cat is shown holding a larger amount. Another item that one of these cats may be seen carrying is a hammer, known as the Uchide no Kozuchi (打ち出の小槌), used to represent wealth. This "miracle mallet", when shaken, is said to bring the person whatever they wish for, in this case, money. In some cases, you may see a maneki neko holding onto a fish, most likely a carp; a daruma (達磨), a Japanese paper maché doll; or an ema (絵馬 prayer tablet).

The final aspects of the maneki neko to take into consideration are the collars, bells, and bibs that can be found on many of the cats. To better understand the existence of these items, one must look back a bit into history. In the past, during the Edo period, these forms of cats were quite expensive and most women would give them a red collar. The cats would also have a bell to help the owners keep track of their cat's location. This trend from the past has seemingly been passed down to the maneki neko figurines, as many cats can be found to have a red collar adorned with a bell.

The bib on a maneki neko can vary in extravagance, from the very simple to the very elaborate. These bibs may be something purely ornamental (as some toy animals in Japan also have bibs), or for some they may have more of a religious significance. This is yet again another factor to the maneki neko whose significance can truly vary depending on an individual person's own belief.

As you can see, there is quite a great deal more to a maneki neko than what one might first believe. The combination of color, item, and the orientation of the paw can all alter the meaning of a particular maneki neko. Perhaps now you may be interested in purchasing a little cat of your own, maybe to boost your own luck in a particular area of life. These cats can be found in many sizes from basic key chains to the figures that you see in restaurants and businesses, and maybe there is one cat out there that is right for you.
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Most Recent Comments for this Article
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Thanks for the history.  My grandmother keeps a black cat with a spring head.  When I was little, we had to say "Hi Neki Neko!"  I always thought because it was different than the porcelain cats it just meant "Hi Happy Cat".  Now I have a bit more appreciation.
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Mark Said:
I have made changes to this editorial. (October 23), mostly visual related changes.
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~Kin~ Said:
Every time I pass by this local Chinese (random goods) store, I notice this big calico cat. For some reason I always knew it represented good luck but now I know that it could mean a bunch of other things. Great article!
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Mark Said:
That's good to hear smile Please let us know how we can improve / what you would like to learn and we'll look into improving / writing articles about these requests. Enjoy your stay at Jappleng!
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This is very great to learn about this culture and it's language. Plus cats are my favorite animal, and Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat is a great way for me to start learning the culture and its celebrations.
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Mark Said:
@Kirari I know what you mean, it's like it's staring into your soul like those clock cats that move their tail and eyes for every tick.

@Gen But you have to admit, it blends in these days with the other Chinese nicknacks mo-ma bought. Maybe I can convince him to get a zodiac set of the family. I think there's no more room for anything like that in the salon lol
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Kirari Said:
Msybe i wud get a maneki neko just because of its meaning, but those things seem kinda creepy.... their big eyes are staring into your soul and in your nightmares.... so it seems!
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Gen Said:
My mom bought a gold one, and my dad was so irritated of it. LOL. He said it looks very weird.
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Mark Said:

Just nyaning here and showing that the comments work well now smile
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