The Interesting Story Behind The Lucky Cat

In Asia, the lucky cat has a powerful symbolism. Originated in Japan and dubbed as the money cat, beckoning cat or the lucky cat, the kitsch cat is now an iconic lucky charm around the world. The cat became popular in the 17th century. So how did the cat become popular? It all started with an amazing backstory.

The Popular Japanese Figurine

The maneki-neko is believed to bring fortune and luck to people who own it. Made of plastic or ceramic, the Japanese cat raises its one paw as though making a beckoning gesture. The paw is in a swinging motion and moving back and forth. There are also some figurines with motorised arms that wave all day long. It can be placed in entrances of business establishments like bars, laundromats, and restaurants.

The Features of the Iconic Figurine

In popular asian culture, you can usually see Maneki-neko sitting and holding a koban coin or an oval gold coin that came about during Japan's Edo period. It contains the phrase sen man ryou which means 10 million gold pieces. In Western culture, on the other hand, the beckoning gesture involves a clenched fist with your index finger sticking out. The finger moves repeatedly like a hook. The figurine also comes in different colors. Each color represents the type of good fortune you wish to obtain.

  • White: Purity, happiness
  • Black: Safety
  • Red: Protection from illness
  • Gold: Wealth and prosperity
  • Pink: Love and romance
  • Blue: Academic Success 
  • Green: Family safety

While it originated and became popular in Japan, it has been immensely popular in Chinatowns. That's why it's always been mistaken for being Chinese. Surprisingly, the lucky cat first appeared during the Japan's Edo period. As for the exact origin of the good luck charm, it still remains to be unknown. However, the earliest records of the figure appears in Utagawa Hiroshige's ukiyo-e woodblock print from the series, titled Flourishing Business in Balladtown (Jôruri-machi hanka no zu), which was created in 1852.

Japanese Lucky Cat Legend

Cats are known to be lovable and they also make great pets in Western culture. However, cats have different meaning in Japanese folklore. They're known to have protective powers and they also depict good fortune. This is why using cats as a symbol of luck and fortune no longer comes as a surprise. According to a Japanese folklore, there was a 17th-century monk who lived in a small Gōtoku-ji temple in Setagaya, Tokyo. The monk had a pet bobtail cat and they both lived a peaceful life until the peace was disrupted by a lord samurai, Ii Naotaka of the Hikone Domain, when he made an intrusion to the area. At that time, the lord was taking shelter under the tree just outside the temple. He noticed that the monk's cat help his one paw up as though waving to him to get inside the temple.

As he moved towards the cat, a lightning bolt struck the nearby tree where he was originally standing. The lord was thankful to the cat for saving his life. From then on, the monk's cat became the temple's patron. A statue was even to commemorate meneki-neko's life. This folklore made the beckoning cat the bearing of good fortune.


← Older Post Newer Post →