The Japanese Lucky Cat

brings feline good fortune

Do you need a little bit of luck? A Japanese lucky cat might bring you lots of good fortune, according to many legends.

Lucky or not, a money cat can add a touch of feline cuteness to any spot. And the history behind it is quite interesting…

Maneki Neko (which literally translates as Beckoning Cat) is a popular statuette of Japanese origins. Experts believe that it first appeared in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1968).

The earliest documentation comes from the Meji Era (around the 1870s) in the form of a newspaper article. Around this time, Maneki Nekos clad in kimonos were given out at a shrine in Osaka. In 1902, an ad promoting money cats shows that these lucky cats were already popular at that time.

Of course, there are a few legends that claim that the Beckoning Cat appeared at a much earlier time.

Meaning of Each Feature

The Maneki Neko depicts a cat (believed to be a Japanese Bobtail) with a raised paw. You will find different versions of the Japanese lucky cat: some come with an upward right paw. Others come with an upward left paw. Tradition says that the one with the upward right paw attracts money while the one with the upward left paw attracts customers. So choose you figurine accordingly!

Here are the meanings of the Japanese lucky cat's most common features:

Beckoning Gesture

Lucky cat figurines are recognized for this distinctive gesture: a cat beckoning with an upward, open paw and folded fingers. To many westerners, this gesture might seem like the cat is waving instead of beckoning. This is due to the different body language used by the Japanese. For the Japanese, a raised hand with open palm and folded fingers is a beckoning sign.

As I said before, you will find lucky cat figurines beckoning with either paw. According to legend, a figurine with an upward left paw is good for attracting customers while one with an upward right paw will attract more money. Purists argue that the original Japanese lucky cat beckoned with the left paw. The right paw cat, they say, was created to cater to a more materialistic society.

Don’t want to go wrong? Get a Maneki Neko that beckons with both paws at the same time! Or get two kitties, each beckoning with a different paw.

Experts also say that the left paw cat attracts women while the right paw cat attracts men.

Another interesting tidbit is that in the traditional Maneki Neko, the paw rises just above the whiskers. You will find statuettes with paws extending beyond the whiskers though. The basis for this is that the higher the paw, the better the luck.


The Mankei Neko comes in different materials (from ceramic to plastic), colors (red, gold, white), and sizes. You will also find a so called Chinese lucky cat – which is basically the same lucky cat. By the way, Feng Shui experts use lucky cat figurines to attract good fortune.

Most "money cats" sport some sort of neck ornamentation. The most common items include: a collar with a bell, a bib (called yaradekake), and a scarf.

Several experts say that there was a time when cats where rare and valuable in Japan. Cat owners would put a bell around their necks to be able to find them more easily, in case they wandered away. So that may be the reason behind Maneki Neko’s collar and bell.

The origin of the bib and scarf is less clear. Some believe that it relates to bib-wearing protective figurines, which were popular at the time. Somehow that tradition was transferred to the lucky cat figurine.

Another well-known feature is the coin. Many figurines are depicted holding a koban (a gold coin used during the Edo period). Clearly, the coin symbolizes financial abundance.

Lucky Gift Ideas

Give the gift of luck. Japanese lucky cats make wonderful cat lover gifts. Maneki Neko figurines are very popular, but you can also give: lucky-cat inspired key chains, charms, posters, t-shirts, piggy banks, and much more. See below for some gift ideas.

Legends and Popularity

There are many legends associated with Japanese lucky cats. But the best-known story is that of Naotaka li, a samurai and an actual historical figure.

According to this legend, Naotaka was returning from a long trip when a storm came upon him. He sought refuge under a tree near a rundown temple. The monks from the temple kept a white cat, named Tama. Naotaka noticed the little white cat sitting at the temple’s door. To his amazement, Tama raised his paw and beckoned him.

Naotaka, startled by the cat’s gesture, left his shelter and walked towards the temple. Just as he entered the temple, lightning struck the tree. Amazingly, Tama had saved his life. From that day on, Naotaka took care of the temple and the little white cat. When Tama died, he was buried on the temple’s grounds and Naotaka had a statue erected in his honor.

According to another legend, the idea of a lucky cat came to a poor old woman in her dreams. This old lady had had a pet cat for a very long time. To her, he was her only family. However, due to her extreme poverty she almost had to give him up. Luckily, she had a dream in which her cat told her to make a cat figurine and sell it. She followed his instructions and her fortune was made.

Whether these stories have contributed to the popularity of the Japanese lucky cat is not known, but his following has steadily grown not only in the United States but also around the world. Maneki Neko is very popular in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and several western countries. There are even fan clubs devoted to this lucky cat.

Related Topics

Lucky cat figurines

Cat collectibles

Japanese cat names

Japanese Bobtail cats

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