The fortune cat is a lucky talisman that is very popular in Japanese and Chinese cultures. You have probably seen it in the front window or near the cash register of some Asian shops or restaurants. These adorable cat figurines typically hold a gold coin or fish in one hand, while inviting customers and good fortune. Here are ten facts about this cute lucky cat.
The meaning of Its name
In Japanese, maneki-neko (pronounced ma-neck-ee-neck-o) means "beckoning cat" or "invitation cat." But this lucky charm is also known as the Chinese lucky cat, the golden cat, the money cat, the welcoming cat and the fortune cat.
The ancient tale about how it was created
The classic tale focuses around a struggling restaurant, bar or temple where the owner takes in a hungry and neglected cat. In gratitude, the cat sits in front of the store, beckoning to customers and bringing prosperity.
The country of origin
The maneki-neko originated in Japan, and most agree that these lucky cats first appeared during the Edo period (17th century to mid-19th century).
The meaning of its color
Most of the maneki-neko figurines are in white but depending on local tastes, traditions, and specific meanings attached to the figurines, the colors can be in shades of black, red, or gold. Among these variations, a black cat is believed to see well even at night thus is considered as a cat of fortune to chase away bad luck. On the other hand, red is a color said to be disliked by the gods of smallpox and measles thus a red maneki-neko is considered to be effective in warding off illnesses. As for the other colors used for the maneki-neko figurines, here are their respective meanings:
Gold – bringing in money or monetary fortune
Pink – improving one's fortune in love
Yellow – bringing in a good match for marriage
Blue – improving safety at home and praying for traffic safety
Green – hoping for success in exams and excellence in studies
Leopard print – as the word leopard (? – hyou) sounds the same as votes (? – hyou) in Japanese, this is a favorite of politicians to signify bringing in many votes from the electorate
Some of them have movable parts
Some maneki-neko are designed to have moving arms. Like a bobblehead figurine, the arm can be set into motion by the touch of a hand. Some kinetic maneki-neko are solar-powered or run with a battery, allowing the arms to beckon for long periods of time.
Lucky cats are often shown carrying koban (gold coins from the Edo Period)
Traditionally worth one ryo each (a measure of value in its day), the three koban coins held by this lucky cat statue are worth much more. One of the coins is worth one million ryo ?, another worth 10,000 ryo, and yet another worth 1,000 ryo.
The city which produces the most maneki-neko figurines
In Japan, there are a number of places which are famous for producing the maneki-neko figurines such as Seto City and Takasaki City. Among these, the top producer of these cute-looking cat figurines is Tokoname City which is one of the oldest and biggest production base among the "Nihon Rokkoyo or Japan's Six Ancient Kilns. As a result, most of the maneki-neko figurines produced in Tokoname are made from ceramic. In recent years, though, plastic versions have become more common especially those powered by battery or solar power that has the raised hand moving in a beckoning fashion repeatedly.
Give a paw
Traditionally, the maneki-neko's paw beckons with its paw facing forward in Japanese fashion. Some maneki-neko designed for Western markets have the cat's paw facing backward.
Right or left
Maneki-neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised (and sometimes both). There are many different beliefs regarding the meaning of the raised paw. Many people think that a raised left paw brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth. Some believe the opposite, or that one paw is for luck and the other for wealth. Another theory is that a raised left paw attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it.
In Tokoname, there is a gigantic maneki-neko figurine named Tokonyan which looks over the town
The name was selected after an open call for suggestions from the city's residents which was conducted in the summer of 2008. Tokonyan is perched on top of a wall on the southern side of the Tokoname Maneki-Neko Street and measures 3.8 meters high and 6.3 meters wide. If you look at it from the street below, it appears as if Tokonyan is peering over the wall. In front of Tokonyan, there are two brown ceramic cats looking at it as seen in the photo above. If you don't look closely, you might be misled into thinking that these figurines in front of Tokonyan are real cats since they are of the same size as their living counterparts!
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