If you’re reading this, you may already be a fan of the friendly-looking cat statue with the raised paw, or you may have noticed the cat at the entrance to Chinese and Japanese restaurants and wondered about it. Some people call it the “Chinese Lucky Cat,” but it actually got its start in Japan, where it is known as “Maneki Neko” (beckoning cat).
To Westerners, the cat’s upraised paw may appear to be waving, but in Japan a raised hand with the palm facing forward and the fingers folding up and down is a beckoning (“come here”) gesture (in contrast, people in North America beckon with the back of the hand facing forward). A raised left paw is generally thought to beckon good luck and wealth, while a raised right paw beckons costumers (and perhaps friends). As with anything based on folk traditions, there are variations. For example, some people say the left paw up is for money, while the right paw is for good luck. Others say the left paw is for good fortune, the right for health. Some say the left paw up is for bars and tea houses (in Japan, someone who holds his liquor well is said to be left-handed), while the right is for other businesses.
There are also many variations of the story of the first Maneki Neko. We’ll bring you the most famous one in our next post.