Whenever you visit Chinatown, Asian stores, or even restaurants, you may stumble upon a little cat waving to you next to the cashier. You may be wondering what the real purpose of the cat is. Most people may think that the origin of this cat statue comes from China, turns out that this famous cat actually comes from Japan.
Maneki-Neko (招き猫) is a talisman that is believed to attract good luck and fortune to its owner, if it is the left paw waving it will attract customers and if the right one is waving, it can invite good fortune and money, and sometimes there are also two waving paws, which means protection. Therefore, it is very common to find it displayed in shops, restaurants, and even at someone’s house.
Traditionally, Maneki-Neko depicts a calico Japanese Bobtail cat, which is known to be native to Japan and has been known for centuries, and frequently appears in folklore and art. Japanese Bobtail itself is also considered a lucky breed and having it can bring prosperity and happiness to its owner, and even the tricolor or calico type is known as the luckiest color for this breed. Many legends about the birth of Maneki-Neko, of which the most popular is the legend of the Gōtoku-Ji temple.
The temple legend states that in the 17th century, a poor monk lived in a small Zen temple in Setagaya, Tokyo. Even though his life was very difficult, he still shares his food with his pet cat, Tama. One day, a samurai lord Ii Naotaka was on a hunting trip when suddenly a storm came, and he had to seek safety under a large tree near the shrine. While sheltering, he saw Tama, raising one paw as if waving him to the shrine. Out of curiosity, he left the cover and headed for the temple to get a better look at the cat. As he did so, a bolt of lightning shattered the tree he had just been standing on. Grateful for his life to Tama for saving him, Naotaka became the patron of the temple and improved it to be more extensive. When Tama died, he was buried in a special graveyard for cats, and a statue of Maneki-Neko was made to commemorate Tama which has been revered ever since. Today, there are hundreds more Maneki-Neko of all sizes in the temple, brought by people praying for the success of their business and also for their lost or sick cat.
Even so, sometimes having cats in our lives is enough to make us feel lucky without us having to have a Maneki-Neko statue.