All About Japan

The Origin of the Maneki Neko

| Handicrafts , Temples & Shrines

The Maneki Neko, literally the "beckoning cat,"is a very common Japanese figurine. Its one paw is up for inviting or welcoming passersby. Locals believe these adorable cats will bring them good luck, so they're often displayed at stores and restaurants out of the wish for a successful business.

These days, the Maneki Neko can be found in specialty stores overseas as well. Although there are several possible stories behind its origin, the one revolving around Goutokuji Temple probably has the most veracity to it.

Around 1620, Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, was in a terrible state due to the financial problems that plagued it. One day, on the way home from a bird hunting trip, a samurai lord from Hikone province named Naotaka Ii saw a cat in the temple waving with its paw, so he decided to take a break. Suddenly, it started raining, and soon powerful thunder joined in as well. Lord Ii was so pleased at avoiding a drenching that he donated a large sum of money to the temple afterwards. The remodeled Gotokuji Temple thereafter became a guardian temple for the Ii family. Later, a big Maneki Neko statue was built at the temple, and the small version started being sold as a souvenir.

Maneki Neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised. A common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while the right paw brings wealth.

There are also Maneki Neko that have both paws raised. However, they are said to look like they are putting their hands up in surrender, and as such, they are not very popular. Perhaps the idea of trying to bring in customers, wealth, and good luck at the same time is a little too greedy for many. In any case, a Maneki Neko makes for an adorable addition to your home and office, and you don’t have to worry about any deeper meaning to it. Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing.