The maneki-neko (招き猫, literally “beckoning cat”) is a common Japanese figurine which is believed to bring good luck to the owner.

The figurine depicts a cat holding a koban (oval gold coin) with a paw raised in a beckoning gesture. Despite how it might look to some Westerners, the cat is not waving. The Japanese beckoning gesture is made by holding up the hand, palm down, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back, just as it looks with the maneki-neko.

Maneki-neko were traditionally carved from wood or made from clay; but these days, they are generally made of ceramic or plastic. Some maneki-neko are equipped with a mechanical paw which slowly moves back and forth. Maybe you’ve seen one at your local Chinese laundry.

The figurines are often displayed in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, dry cleaners, laundromats, bars, casinos, hotels, nightclubs, and other businesses … generally near the entrance; as well as within homes.

It matters what paw is being used to do the beckoning. A statue with the left paw raised is to get more customers, while the right paw raised is to get more money. Hence it is also said that the one with left paw is for business and the right is for home.

Maneki-neko style Japanese cat dolls can be traced back to the Edo period (1603–1868), or shortly beforehand. They probably first appeared in the Buddhist temples GotokujiSaihoji, or Jishoin, all located in Edo, today’s Tokyo. By the late Edo period they had found appeal with urban consumers. Clear evidence of this is found in Utagawa Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e print from 1852, which depicts a stall selling numerous doll cats.

The origin story for maneki-neko is not entirely agreed upon. Perhaps it was the cat that saved the life of Setagaya daimyo Ii Naokoto by beckoning him into Gotoku-ji temple on a stormy night in the early Edo period. Or it may have been the cat which brought an unassuming old pauper great fortune in the 1850s. Or was it the famous courtesan Usugumo of Tokyo’s former pleasure district who decapitated her pet cat only for its severed head to chomp down a venomous snake in the bathroom?

Irrespective of origin, the perceived luck-bringing properties of maneki neko are undisputed, and as such, they have become deeply ingrained in the Japanese psyche … and indeed throughout the Chinese-speaking world.

And there are many museums that celebrate maneki-neko. The Maneki-Neko Museum in Seto City, Aichi Prefecture, containing 5,000 beckoning cats. The Manekineko Museum of Art in Okayama has another 700. In coastal Onomochi at the Maneki Neko Museum you’ll find 3,000 such figurines. And for those of you living in the United States, there’s even a Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, that features over 2,000 beckoning paws.

Story Idea: Remo Giuffré



1. Maneki-Neko
2. Cats were precious in Japan, and often kept on a leash, as in this 1768–70 painting by Suzuki Harunobu. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
3. A ceramic maneki neko featuring bells around its neck, circa 1880. Gift of Billie L. Moffitt/Mingei International Museum.
4. This book illustration from 1852 shows a shop selling maneki-neko. "Joruri-machi Hanka no zu" by Utagawa HiroshigeNDL Digital Collections.
5. Maneki-neko doing its thing in a shop window
6. Many maneki-neko are enshrined in Gōtoku-ji Temple. The temple is famous for its folklore as the birthplace of maneki-neko.
7. Tokoname Mimamori Neko Tokonyan, or Cat to Watch Over You – is a 12-feet 3.8m high, 6.3m wide cat statue rising from a concrete slab in the city, made to look as though it’s peering over a wall. Photo:  Asturio Cantabrio.
8. Traditional koban (oval gold coin)
Meowth from the Pokémon series has a koban on its forehead.
10. Lucky cat earrings for sale on facebook marketplace HERE
11. Google Search: lots of maneki-neko tattoos out there!



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