Archive | Japan RSS feed for this section

Latest Lucky Cat trend in Japan

3 Jun

HOT MANIKI NEKO NEWS FLASH! According to yesterday’s evening edition of the the Chunichi Newspaper, the type of maneki neko that sells the most has changed drastically since 2008. From around 2000 to 2007, 90% of the lucky cats sold in Tokoname, one of the main pottery towns in Aichi prefecture, had their left paw up (to  beckon/attract customers) and 10% had their right paw up (to beckon money).

However, in 2008, when the derivatives disaster almost wiped out the world economy (known as the Lehman Shock in Japan), everything changed. Suddenly, lucky cats with both paws up became popular, and to make sure that nobody would interpret both paws up as a gesture meaning “I give up!”, the lucky cat makers created a cat that has one paw raised slightly higher than the other paw.two paws raised

Today, 70% of lucky cats sold have both paws raised (to beckon both customers and money), 20% have the right paw raised (money) and 10% have the left paw raised (customers). The economic crisis is continuing in Japan. People and companies have adjusted their wishes, and the maneki neko, always a bellwether of the economy, has adapted to the times.

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.

Maneki Neko territory: a visit to Asakusa and Imado Shrine

27 Jul

By Jean-Pierre Antonio, Suzuka International University, Japan

Twin beckoning cats welcome visitors to Imado Shrine in Asakusa, Tokyo

Asakusa is one of the main attractions in Tokyo, for both Japanese and foreign tourists. Getting there is easy. The Asakusa subway line and the Ginza subway line both stop there.

Asakusa is the name of the area that surrounds Senso-ji, a large temple complex with ancient roots. The area was also closely related to the bright lights of the entertainment world up until the post-war period. The lights were dimmed when the U.S. occupation forces imposed stricter prostitution laws and the more x-rated establishments had to close their doors. Never-the-less, today there is still plenty to see and do.

Once you pass through the famous main temple gate, called Kaminarimon, you will find a long row of small souvenir shops called Nakamise (literally means, “inside shops”). They sell all of the most popular and typical souvenirs, and some rather obscure ones too. Of course, as you browse through the shops you will see many maneki neko and that is only natural because Asakusa is the perfect environment for the maneki neko, as it has been a gathering place for buyers and sellers for hundreds of years. Merchant culture here stretches way back to the beginning of the Edo period. In fact, if you take a little stroll, away from Senso-ji, you will find a shrine connected with the very roots of maneki neko. This is Imado Shrine (jinja).

Walk back to the main gate, Kaminarimon, turn left and walk along a wide avenue. Within 10 minutes you will come to a main intersection, just before the road continues and crosses the Sumida river, Tokyo’s main water thoroughfare. Cross the intersection, turn left and you will enter the cool and shady Sumida Park, which runs along the river. Continue walking through the park for about 15-20 minutes. It might take you longer, however, as you will probably be tempted to stop and stare at the impressive sight of  Tokyo’s latest modern attraction on the other side of the river, Tokyo Sky Tree, currently the world’s tallest tower.

When you come to the end of the park, continue walking along Edo Avenue, and in about 5-10 minutes you will come to a spot where another road splits off to the left from Edo Avenue. At this point, it’s best to stop somebody and ask them where Imado Shrine is. It’s close, but a little difficult to explain clearly here. Once you’re there, though, you’ll know right away that you have arrived in maneki neko territory. Pass through the tori gate and you will see masses of round, wooden votive tablets (ema). These are the wishes of shrine visitors.

Imado shrine (note the boards hung with ema prayer plaques on either side of the path before the shrine)

Imado Shrine is known for its matchmaking powers, so many messages are related to finding the right partner. As you approach the shrine, you will see two granite maneki neko sitting on a plinth at the base of the shrine stairs. At the top of the stairs there are two very large maneki neko standing at the entrance to the shrine [see top photo]. A bit intimidating! Go back down the stairs and to the right is a small shrine sales office where you can buy the ema and also different kinds of charms, all showing the maneki neko image.

Maneki Nekos on display near the office at Imado Shrine

Scene from the video played at Imado Shrine

Next to the office there is another small building containing a varied and extremely colourful collection of maneki neko dolls, creating their own sacred space. There is also a small TV which plays a dvd of the maneki neko dance, performed by some shrine maidens and a TV personality, whose name I forget. It’s bizarre and hilarious and, of course, very cute. All in all, it’s a true hot-spot for maneki neko. But why?

Imado Shrine is in an area called Imado, and in days long gone, many potters lived there, and they produced a kind of pottery that came to be known as Imado ware. Some of the earliest examples of maneki neko were made here, so this is, in a way, the birthplace of maneki neko. I can just imagine some sharp merchant at Asakusa back in the Edo period hearing one of the legends of the maneki neko, then going to nearby Imado and commisioning a potter to make some figures of a cat with an upraised paw to sell in his shop. The rest is history. From Imado and Asakusa, maneki neko has spread around the world.

Watering can beckoning cats, some of the unique maneki nekos for sale in Asakusa

Unfortunately, there are no potters living in Imado anymore, but back at Senso-ji, in the Nakamise area, you will find a shop called Sukeroku. It is the second from the end on the right, close to Senso-ji temple, and if you don’t slow down you might just pass it by, which would be really unfortunate. The shop has been run by the same family for about 150 years, since the end of the Edo period, and they sell all sorts of small, handmade ceramic figures. Some are replicas of toys from the Edo period and some are tiny scenes of Edo period street-life. In a space that allows no more than two customers at a time, you can see hundreds of these tiny figures lining the shelves. Of course, there are many variations of the maneki neko –some very humorous, some I’d never seen anywhere else. Spend some time in the shop and you will step back in time to the days when all of Edo’s citizens came to Asakusa to pray and play and eat and laugh, and perhaps, also buy a maneki neko to take back to their homes.

Spring nekos!

29 Mar

After a long winter, the cherry blossoms are finally blooming! People in Japan will be enjoying hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blossoms, while on the west coast of Canada, the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival has begun. Perfect time to share these spring-themed Maneki Neko, which seem to be beckoning the positive energy of cherry blossom season:

(Maneki Neko charm with cherry blossom)

(hand-painted paper-mache Maneki Neko purchased at a shop in Nagoya)

[Note: more Lucky Cat photos are posted regularly on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/LuckyCat.ManekiNeko]

Maneki Neko Matsuri

2 Dec

Photos by Jean-Pierre Antonio, Suzuka, Japan

Each year at the end of September, the city of Seto, Japan (located about 25 kilometres northeast of Nagoya) celebrates Maneki Neko, the cat that beckons good fortune. Lucky Cats appear all over the city (for sale in shops and on tables along the streets, on display in restaurants and other venues), children as well as adults roam the streets with their faces painted like cats, and a general atmosphere of fun and good humour prevails (with all the painted faces, the mood is reminiscent of North American Halloween).

As well as hosting the Maneki Neko Matsuri (or festival), Seto is home to the Maneki Neko Museum, where over 1000 beckoning cats can be viewed all year. Seto is also one of Japans oldest and most renowned pottery towns (dating back over 1000 years). Seto kilns have been producing a distinctive style of finely crafted beckoning cat statue since the 1890s (more elegant and slim than the plump round-faced cat holding a gold coin, which was first produced in the neighbouring city of Tokoname in the 1950s).

Lucky wind chime

28 Aug

For centuries in Japan, the tinkle of a wind chime has brought to mind the cooling sound of water on a hot summer day. Wind chimes (or wind bells) were originally brought from China to Japan around 400 BC. Buddhists hung them from the eaves of temples, pagodas and other religious buildings to attract beneficial spirits and drive away malevolent ones. Eventually they were adopted by the secular world, and people began to hang them in their homes and gardens for their pleasing sound and to call good luck. The wind chime below combines the good luck associated with a wind chime and the luck attracting power of Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat.

This Beckoning Cat wind chime comes from Tokoname, Aichi prefecture, near Nagoya. The head is a miniature of the giant Maneki Neko head that has become a civic symbol in Tokoname. The five yen coin (go ‘en), which is used to attach the body to the head, is also a good luck symbol or charm (a Japanese word for “fate” is pronounced “en” and “go en” means something like “fortunate/good fate”).

So, this wind chime combines three different good luck amulets (wind chime, Beckoning Cat, go ‘en coin) to bring the owner exceptional good fortune!

With thanks to Jean-Pierre Antonio, Suzuka International University

Grinning Lucky Cats

17 May

These unusual Maneki Neko with laughing open mouths caught the eye of photographer James Kemlo in a craft shop in Atami on the Izu peninsula, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan.  The Lucky Cats hold fans, swords, umbrellas and fish, rather than the usual gold coin. Instead of sitting straight up in the standard beckoning cat pose, they lounge around, looking quite casual and joyous. Perhaps their wide, laughing mouths give them extra beckoning power –like they’re having a party you’re welcome to join. The three Lucky Cats in the store window display were each a different color – one blue, one white, and one red (a change from the more common white or black). Each one is hand-made individually by a local craftsperson from clay and kiln-fired. 

For more of James Kemlo’s photos of Japan, check out his Views of Japan blog. You can also find him on Twitter @JapanPhotos.