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 (showing respect and veneration for the cat, caring for the cat and keeping it warm, displaying wealth, gold bell as symbol of treasure -either material or non-material)

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 (one 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, while another reader suggests the Chinese/Kanji character means “million”, not “5”, which makes it “hundreds of millions of ryo.” However you translate it, the cat is beckoning some serious wealth!). 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.

73 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.

    • Lynx August 30, 2015 at 2:12 am #

      Actually, the Chinese/Kanji character means “million”, not “5”.

      “Hundreds of millions of ryo”

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko August 31, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

        Thanks! I’ll add your correction.

  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.

    • Jennifer January 9, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

      How about purple?

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko January 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm #

        Purple is not a traditional lucky cat colour, so I’m not exactly sure what it means. It could have some of the traits of red (welcome health, keep away illness and evil) and some of the traits of pink (which is also a new lucky cat colour, associated with welcoming romance and love). I think it’s also kind of a fun colour in modern terms, so maybe it’s associated with modern ideas of fun, happiness and friendship. Just a guess.

      • Kalena May 28, 2019 at 6:07 am #

        In ancient Edo I was told a blue cat with both paws up we’re or protection and health! Especially for the young

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko May 28, 2019 at 10:58 am #

        Kalena, that’s interesting what you heard about blue. I think blue beckoning cats and cats with both paws raised is a modern things. The older cats I’ve seen did not have both paws raised, and in the Edo period blue (indigo dye) was the colour of common people’s clothing, so didn’t have a particular symbolic meaning (as far as I know). I haven’t seen any older cats painted blue.

  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: https://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 trick 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):

    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!

      • Peggy December 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

        I found this at a local auction and was wondering if anyone had an idea what it may be worth? It’ 18″ tall.

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko December 11, 2014 at 10:16 am #

        Hi Peggy. I’ll post the response I gave on our FB page in case anyone here wants to agree or disagree. It looks to me like a Chinese style lucky cat that would sell for about $50-80.

  15. Tony Casillas February 14, 2015 at 5:34 am #

    Reblogged this on tonyjcmontana.

  16. Pettlepop (@Pettlepop) April 15, 2015 at 1:36 am #
  17. Angela May 17, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    WHiich way should they face can anyone tell me please.

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko May 18, 2015 at 7:29 pm #

      In a business the lucky cat is usually placed on a counter or shelf so that it is beckoning people, good luck & wealth into the business (facing so that people entering through the doorway can see the cat’s face and raised paw). In a home, position the cat so that you and your visitors can see the face and welcoming paw (any direction is fine).

  18. mysty July 9, 2015 at 7:29 pm #

    I have a small black cat with a eye hole in the front that u look in and see a picture of a boat, I can’t seem to find any information on this ?? Help

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko July 10, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

      Sorry, I haven’t see one like this. Is it a beckoning cat? The boat picture inside makes it sounds like something that might be sold as a memento or souvenier of a place by the sea. If I come across any info, I’ll let you know here.

  19. eliana July 13, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    I cant find the cat that I have anywhere.

  20. Jack January 20, 2016 at 10:21 am #

    This helped me a lot I drew a picture of a red cat

  21. Scott Pitzer March 4, 2016 at 7:11 pm #

    I saw one in the background of an episode of BONANZA (in a scene which featured “Hop Sing,” the Chinese cook played by Victor Sen Yung.)
    I mentioned it to a Japanese-American auto repair owner, who has one in his office. He was surprised Hop Sing would have one, considering the origin is Japanese. Oh well, who knows if the BONANZA set decorators of the 1960s were really experts…

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko March 4, 2016 at 11:11 pm #

      Interesting! I wouldn’t be surprised if that was one of the first appearances of a Chinese-American version (or possibly any version) of the lucky cat on North American TV (I’m not sure when the Japanese beckoning cat first found its way into Chinese businesses, in general). I’ll have to keep my eyes open for the episode, so I can get a screen shot.

  22. flutura May 17, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    what does the bell around the neck means?

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko May 17, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      The bell (and the bib) go back to the Edo tradition of putting these on a beloved cat (they were also put on dogs, and you will also see real bibs placed on statues in Japan). It symbolises veneration/respect for the cat and protection (keeping the cat warm and well cared for). An expensive-looking bell can also symbolize treasure (though not necessarily material treasure, but the treasure of knowledge and wish-fulfilment).

  23. Midheaven Gemini August 26, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Reblogged this on Inspired by… and commented:
    Lucky cats.

  24. Chris Brown September 8, 2016 at 10:05 am #

    Sushi restaurant has silver one,right paw raised in window along with five others,all different. The meaning of all diver one is what I’m after? ! Thank you

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko September 8, 2016 at 11:37 am #

      Silver is a new maneki neko color. I think its meaning is similar to white (beckoning purity and happiness). Silver is also associated with wealth, so it also beckons wealth.

  25. Kinky March 12, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    What are undwr the paws. Shaped like a gravy pot with a lid?

  26. Snowstorm ^-^ September 9, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    The silver cat will bring patience.

  27. Divya Nandha August 16, 2019 at 8:54 am #

    Am interested in buying the tri coloured right hand cat. If you can pls quote me the price of 21 cms

    • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko August 26, 2019 at 9:55 pm #

      Sorry, this is not a site that sells lucky cats. We provide information only.

      • Nam December 18, 2020 at 10:00 am #

        Hi, what do you think about this store ?
        Maneki neko world

      • Lucky Cat - Maneki Neko December 18, 2020 at 11:19 am #

        I’ve never shopped there, but it looks like a good site with lots of choices.


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