Left paw or right? Black, white or red? : Decoding the Lucky Cat

1 Oct

What does it mean when a beckoning cat has its right paw or its left paw raised? What do the different cat colors mean? What about the coin the Lucky Cat holds, or the bib?  The meanings can vary from region to region within Japan, and some meanings have changed over time, but here is a general summary:

Tri-color Cat: (modeled after the Japanese bob-tail breed, this is a popular & traditional color for lucky cats, beckoning general good luck, wealth, prosperity)
White Cat: purity, happiness
Black Cat: safety, wards off evil and stalkers
Golden Cat: wealth and prosperity
Red Cat: protection from evil & illness (especially illness in children)
Pink Cat (a more modern color): love, relationships and romance
Green Cat (also a modern color): educations/studies

Right Paw raised: invites money and good fortune (usually to businesses)
Left Paw raised: invites customers or people
(Some suggest the right & left paws both invite business-related prosperity, but that the left paw is for businesses of the night, such as bars, geisha houses & restaurants. Use of lucky cats in homes is more recent)
Both Paws raised: invites protection of home or business
Coin: wealth and material abundance
Bib and Bell: may relate to protection, as well as wealth and material abundance

While the Beckoning Cat originates in Japan*, it has also become a popular good luck figure in Chinese businesses. Among these businesses, gold beckoning cats seem to be particularly popular (gold being associated with the desired wealth and prosperity of the business). One of our blog readers pointed out the meaning of some of the writing on the coins of the Chinese Lucky Cat at left (see areas circled in red). On the cat’s right paw (to the left of the photo) is a typical Chinese phrase of hope for good fortune (something like “the source of money spreads widely”). The middle is billion in simplified Chinese (another reader suggests the Chinese character circled in the middle is “5” or “go” in Japanese, which means “50,000” when paired with the character underneath). Another reader suggests the character on the right (under the left paw) means “open fate/destiny”, or “kai un” in Japanese. Japanese kanji is based on Chinese writing, and the meaning of the writing on Japanese lucky cat coins is similar (readers of Chinese and Japanese, please feel free to verify or comment). Maneki Neko collector, Don Hargrove also provides some more info on the coins in his comment in our “About” section.

The kanji at right is quite common on Japanese Maneki Neko coins (the coin is called a koban). It reads “sen man ryo”, which means 1,000 X 10,000 ryo.  So that is 10,000,000 ryo.  A ryo is the name of a gold coin that was used in Japan in the Edo period, and 10,000,000 of them was a huge fortune at that time.

 * For info on the Japanese origin of the beckoning cat, see this earlier blog post.
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32 Responses to “Left paw or right? Black, white or red? : Decoding the Lucky Cat”

  1. Jean-Pierre Antonio October 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    According to a Japanese friend the Chinese character circled under the right hand paw means “open fate/destiny”, or “kai un” in Japanese. The Chinese character circled in the middle is “5″ or “go” in Japanese and with the character underneath it equals “50,000″. The last Chinese phrase circled on the left means something like, “the source of money spreads widely”, suggesting I guess, an unlimited amount of riches.

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko October 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Thanks. A little bit different from what the other reader said, but the general idea is the same: show me the money!

      (Note: the beckoning cat’s origin does seem to have been as a good luck talisman for businesses, and it continues to play this role with expanding popularity, but, as the different color meanings attest, the beckoning cat is not just about gaining material prosperity, and it can have a different personal meaning to each owner)

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko October 2, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

        Note: I’ll update the post to incorporate corrections and new suggestions as I receive them.

  2. Marcia February 20, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    We’ve been trying to decode the writing on our lucky cat (the exact same gold one) ever since we brought her home from the antique store. We found that the top characters on the scroll held by the right paw means wealth. The two bottom characters of the middle coin means 10,000 Ryo and the bottom character of the coin under the left paw may mean happiness. But

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko February 21, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Did some of your comment get cut off, Marcia?

      • Marcia March 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

        Yeah, it did.

  3. Sadie February 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    What does blue mean?

    • Sadie February 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      Blue means intelligence and academic success.

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko February 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

        The meanings seem to vary, depending on who you talk to and where you are. In Japan, I think green tends to be associated with academic studies, but I’m not sure about blue (I’ll see if I can find out). In Chinese Feng Shui, green is linked to skill/knowledge, family and health, and blue is linked to skill/knowledge, academic studies (as you mentioned) and career.

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko February 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

        A friend in Japan suggests that in the old days, blue was too common a color in Japan to be tied down to one meaning.

        Most pre-modern everyday clothing was dyed blue (with indigo), and it was one of the few colors that the Edo period government permitted lower classes to wear. The distinctive smell of indigo acts like a repellent, so insects would not eat the cloth and make holes in it (helping the cloth last longer). So, the use of blue was originally more practical than meaningful.

        (Sorry, this doesn’t help with the modern meaning of blue Maneki Neko)

  4. Channel Marie Imperial March 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    This is very informative! I never knew that different nekos have different meanings! Thank you so much for sharing this! Meow! ^_^

  5. Channel Marie Imperial March 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Keep on blogging about Maneki Neko! I LOVE IT! ^_^

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko March 5, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks, Channel! Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  6. Karen Welford March 13, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    what does a silver cat mean ?

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko March 13, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a silver Maneki Neko. The meaning might be similar to white (purity, happiness, positive things to come), with perhaps a dash more affluence thrown in.

  7. Shelley April 7, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Thanks for colour ref as about to have a tattoo and wasn’t 100% sure :)

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko April 7, 2013 at 11:59 pm #

      Should make a great tattoo!

  8. sarah September 24, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Great Site I just wondering if. What’s the meaning of a cat that has black, orange and small white cat if it comes to your feet and play..over it..I just feel lucky when there is cat in my feet.

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko November 11, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Sorry to take so long to reply, Sarah (WordPress usually notifies me about comments and didn’t this time). If a beckoning cat is black and orange like a tiger, it can be thought to ward off illness and bad luck and protect travellers. More info on tigers and maneki neko in this post: http://luckymanekineko.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/in-bamboo-groves-did-the-maneki-neko-roam/. A white cat can symbolize purity and happiness. Watching a cat at play can make us forget our worries and feel happy for that moment. Cats in general are often aloof, so this is another reason to feel honoured or lucky when a cat comes to sit or play near you (no matter what its colour). Enjoy!

  9. melissa brown April 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    I bought a golden color one and the left paw goes up and down. Well one day I and my fiance was sitting underneath it when we heard it meow. We don’t have a cat, so I looked to the fireplace and thought maybe one was in there. We heard it again about 2 hours later. But never again. Any answers to why?

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko April 28, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      A tick of the wind carrying sound? A haunted lucky cat? Either way, it’s an Intriguing story, and I haven’t heard this happening with anyone else’s maneki neko, so perhaps yours has its own special luck :)

  10. Maria Lolita April 28, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    Hi! Can you please tell me or give me a link on the different types of Koban the Maneki Neko is holding? Like the characters, origin and its meaning? Please? Thank you.

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko April 28, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      From what I understand, the koban was added to maneki neko figures in the 1940s when the Tokoname region created its popular style of round face rounded body maneki neko holding a gold coin (it may have appeared with some maneki neko before this, but became common with the Tokoname style neko). The koban itself is an old type of money used in Japan before the 1860s (see “koban” on Wikipedia). According to Alan Scott Pate, who is an expert on Japanese antique dolls (including lucky cat figures), the koban held by lucky cats typically have manryo (10,000), senman ryo (10,000,000) and okuman ryo (100,000,000) denominations engraved on the front of the coin (any additional kanji on the coins also relates to wealth and calling for wealth). Maneki Neko holding the coin came into popularity about the time of Japan’s post-war economic boom. The coins reinforce the symbolism of wealth and good fortune.

      • Eileen Mcguinness April 29, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

        could anyone please tell me please as i am wanting to buy a maneki neko [ lucky cat ] for my home but i have seen some on ebay but by looking at the pictures of the lucky cats for sale , i am some what confused to knowing a left paw raised and a right paw raised as you look at the cat on a picture to which do you know if its right paw that you look at front on or right paw turned around to my right side if anyone knows what i mean by this……? as i really would love to buy one but i know that the lucky cat holding its right paw up is the best cat to get for homes …? also on where i can buy a real nice one fron in the uk as i have not seen many but think the one on ebay is nice but its the wrong paw holding up left i think but as i said i am very confused to know from a picture of some lucky cats which is the left and right to the picture.. thanks , hope someone can help me with my dilemma and quest in finding aright or left paw lucky cat…

  11. Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko April 29, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Eileen, the right or left paw up is from the cat’s perspective. For example, if the cat is holding up its right paw, and you were standing behind the cat, looking in the same direction as the cat, the paw would also be on your right side. If you’re looking at a picture of the front of a lucky cat then the right paw would be on the left side of the picture. Does that make sense?

    I like the left paw up for homes, because the emphasis is on beckoning customers/people rather than money, but I don’t think it really matters which paw is up, as they both beckon good luck and good fortune. I’ve seen them for sale on Ebay and Amazon, as well as in local stores that sell Japanese or Chinese products. Here is another website to check out (although I’ve never purchased anything from it, so can’t recommend it personally):

    http://www.goodsfromjapan.com/interior-maneki-neko-lucky-cats-c-249_126.html

    And here’s another: http://www.tokyo-smart.com/en/20-maneki-neko

    Good luck!

    • Eileen Mcguinness April 29, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

      thanks so much for your explanation on the left and right paws, it is not very clear when you look at them as they dont say if its a right or left paw before you buy , just found it a bit confusing as i want to buy the right one, many many thanks for your reply, with good luck , fortune and a left paw to you… [ha] with regards and thanks for helping me. P. S i do have a real cat called louie who is a British blue shorthair 15 and half years now, he does do a high five and a low from left to right also he knows his right paw from his left, he is so intelligent and hes so handsome [ just look like a big teddy bear,he also a real mummy’s boy, i adore him, i also have a very pretty blue point birman called luna who is 17 and a half , she will be 18 on 23 of December,i call her my dolly day dreamer as she is always sleeping…. i dont have children as i never wanted any so my cats are my children.. and i worship and adrore them more now as i lost my parents last year within six weeks and three days of each other so my cats are all that i have.. i have always loved cats , more than people , [ if you know what i mean ] i find them very spiritual as they do have the six sense… thanks again, love from eileen and the puddycats, miss luna [the posh one], and mr louie and a big high left five to you.. xx my face book page is, if you want to keep in touch is luna louie …

  12. readinghamster July 19, 2014 at 2:32 am #

    Wow i am very lucky, thanks
    This is a nice page

  13. Jin September 2, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    Hi this may seem like a weird question..but I was told that a store/establishment may not have 2 different ‘lucky cats’ in the same vicinity. I’ve tried searching bout this but have come up with no answer. I’ve got 2 suppliers who have each bought me one. Choosing one over the other to put in the store won’t bode well for me…
    any ideas if its bad luck to put both?

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko September 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

      I’ve never heard this & don’t know any reason why it would be bad luck to have more than one lucky cat together. I often see businesses with more than one lucky cat on display together. More cats, more luck!

  14. Princessgigi McClain October 25, 2014 at 12:58 am #

    hI i just received my 1st maneki neko huge financial fortune cat (that’s what mine’s is for) i’m not a lover of cats in real life however i’ve become undaunted by this particular sheng chi activator/enhancer and FINALLY purchased it in gold sitting on a pile of ingots with waving left paw ( I LOVE IT!) i just got it today i work from home so it’s on my home office desk ill switch it from the northeast to southeast positions on my desk. I’m SOOO glad i got this sheng chi cure i popped the battery in and can’t stop lookin @ it KNOWING it’s going to beckon Huge Financial Wealth into ALL of My ShengChi Business Ventures!

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko October 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

      Hope it works for you, Princessgigi!

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