Maneki-neko (a welcoming cat) (招き猫)
A "maneki-neko" is an ornament in the shape of a cat beckoning with a forepaw. Because cats would get rid of mice that feed on agricultural crops and silkworms, a maneki-neko was a lucky charm for sericulture in ancient times. Since the sericulture has declined, it has been regarded as a lucky charm for a prosperous trade.
It is believed that a cat with the right paw (forepaw) raised brings economic fortune and that with the left paw (forepaw) raised attracts people (customers). Some maneki-neko have both paws raised. Many people, however, dislike these because they look as if they have thrown up their hands after having wished too much, that is, after having wished to acquire economic fortune and customers at the same time. Generally, a maneki-neko depicts a calico cat as shown in the photograph, but in recent years there have been not only traditional maneki-neko in white, red or black but also ones in pink, blue or gold. Each color has a different meaning, so that a blue maneki-neko is believed to bring 'academic achievement' or 'traffic safety,' and a pink one is believed to bring 'good luck in love' to the owner. In ancient Japan, a black cat symbolized an amulet or good fortune as 'fukuneko' (a good-luck cat) because it could see also in the night. Therefore a black maneki-neko is regarded as an amulet or a charm against bad luck. Red was believed to be a color of protecting people from smallpox or measles, so a red maneki-neko referred to protection from infectious disease.
There are various theories about the origin of the maneki-neko.
The theory of Gotoku-ji Temple
There are some theories that the maneki-neko derives from Gotoku-ji Temple, located in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.
Naotaka Ii, the second lord of the Hikone domain in the Edo period, passed the gate at Gotoku-ji Temple on the way back from a falconry. Then a cat of the Osho (a priest) of the temple made a gesture in front of the gate, as if it had beckoned to him. Therefore, he dropped in at the temple for a rest. Subsequently, a thunderstorm arrived. Because Naotaka was glad to have avoided the rain, he later made a large donation to the deserted Gotoku-ji Temple in order to rebuild it. Thus it has been said that Gotoku-ji Temple became prosperous again.
After the cat had died, the priest built a tomb to mourn for it. In a later age, a hall for the maneki-neko was built in the precincts of the temple. Since then, people have produced ornaments called manegineko (an inviting cat) in the shape of a cat raising a paw. Gotoku-ji Temple is said to have became an ancestral temple of the Ii family in this connection. The grave of Naosuke Ii, who was assassinated in the Sakuradamongai Incident at the end of the Edo period, is also located in Gotoku-ji Temple.
There is another theory that derives from Gotoku-ji Temple. When Naotaka was taking cover from the rain under a tree at Gotoku-ji Temple, he saw a calico cat that was beckoning to him. As Naotaka approached the cat, the tree under which he had taken cover from the rain just a few moments earlier was struck by lightning. He was grateful to the cat for helping him avoid the lightning strike. According to the theory, Naotaka thereafter made a large donation to Gotoku-ji Temple.
There is another character modeled after those cats. It refers to 'Hikonyan,' the mascot of the four-hundredth anniversary of Hikone-jo Castle's construction.
As mentioned above, a maneki-neko generally has either its right paw or its left paw raised. However, any maneki-neko sold in the precincts of Gotoku-ji Temple has its right paw (forepaw) raised and does not hold a koban (a former Japanese oval gold coin). This is because the temple became an ancestral temple of the Ii family and a left hand means an unhallowed hand for a samurai.
The reason a maneki-neko sold at Gotoku-ji Temple doesn't hold a koban is as follows:
Although a maneki-neko brings opportunity to the owner, it does not bring a good result, which refers to the koban in this case. It depends on the owner whether he or she can take advantage of the opportunity, so this doesn't allow the maneki-neko to hold a koban.
The theory of Jishoin Temple
There are other theories that the maneki-neko originates from Jishoin Temple in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.
According to one of these theories, Dokan OTA, who was outnumbered in the Egota-numagukuro Battle and got lost, saw a cat beckoning to him. The cat invited him into Jishoin Temple. Because this event had led Dokan OTA to succeed in regaining his strength, he later dedicated a Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva) of the cat to the temple. A guardian deity of cats such as the Jizo Bosatsu is regarded as the origin of the maneki-neko.
According to another theory, a wealthy merchant who had lost a child in the mid-Edo period dedicated a guardian deity of cats to Jishoin Temple in order to pray for the soul of the child. The maneki-neko is believed to derive from this guardian deity of cats.
Additionally, there are other theories such as one originating from Saiho-ji Temple, Toshima Ward, Tokyo, and one that originates from folk beliefs. It is not certain which is right.
Some insist that the maneki-neko was modeled after a cat grooming itself.
The present status of maneki-neko
Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture, is Japan's top producer of maneki-neko. Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, is also known as a production area, and maneki-neko produced in both cities are primarily made of ceramic. Moreover, maneki-neko as well as Daruma dolls are produced in the suburbs of Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, through the same process as that used to make Daruma dolls.
(In this process, the 'papier-mache' maneki-neko is made by applying Japanese paper over a wooden mold.)
In recent years, some maneki-neko have been made of plastic, and numerous maneki-neko are still distributed every year.
September 29 is designated as 'Maneki-neko Day.'
Kuru fuku maneki-neko matsuri (Festival of coming fortune and maneki-neko) is held mainly on a weekend around Maneki-neko Day in Ise City, Mie Prefecture, Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, Shimabara City, Nagasaki Prefecture and other places.
Matters related to maneki-neko
At Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line operated by the Wakayama Electric Railway Co., Ltd., a calico cat called 'Tama' (cat stationmaster Tama) is nominated as stationmaster, which is expected to become a real welcoming cat. A maneki-neko producer in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, modeled a special maneki-neko after Tama to give it to Kishi Station as a gift. The producer made it in the shape of a cat raising its left paw, hoping that more passengers would visit the station.
Yoshihisa NARUSE, a pitcher of the Chiba Lotte Marines, makes a similar posture to that of a maneki-neko in his pitching motion. Therefore, his pitching form is nicknamed the 'maneki-neko' pitching style.
Maneki-neko outside Japan
Sometimes, on the streets of China, one can also see maneki-neko with the function of moving a paw. Many of these hold a "1000-ryo gold coin" (the ryo is a unit of currency) in the left paw. But it is uncertain whether Chinese people understand the meaning of the coin. At many shops in Taiwan, maneki-neko identical to those found in Japan have been placed out front or behind the register since the Japanese cultural boom of the 1990s. In most cases people understand the meanings of the colors and paw positions, which represent various wishes. They often place several maneki-neko with different colors and postures at store fronts, wishing to receive several benefits. Maneki-neko are also popular in the Chinatown section of New York City, in the U.S.A. Maneki-neko of approximately the same model as in Japan are often placed at the entrances of restaurants, etc.
Because maneki-neko are also popular in the U.S., they're manufactured as souvenirs for Americans or for export to the U.S. These maneki-neko are referred to as "dollar cats," "welcome cats" or "lucky cats."
(Particularly, one holding a U.S. dollar coin is called "a dollar cat.")
But these maneki-neko have their paws turned in the opposite direction as those in Japan, and consequently they face the back of their paw to the front. This is because beckoning Americans turn the back of a hand in the opposite direction that Japanese do.
(To Americans and Europeans, the Japanese beckoning gesture of facing the palm to the front means 'Get out of here!'
The meaning of this gesture for Americans and Europeans corresponds to that of a gesture to 'hiss' an animal away for the Japanese.)
The above-mentioned difference in paw positions is due to the cultural difference between Japan and the United States.