Tag Archives: Japan

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.

Advertisements

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]

The Road to Gotokuji

13 Apr

There are several legends about the origin of Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat statue that is said to bring good luck to its owner. The most widely accepted story goes back to a poor temple in early 17th century Japan (and is documented in temple records).

The temple, which became known as Gotokuji, was located in the village of Setagaya near Edo (now Tokyo). Although the temple priest barely had enough food for himself, he took in a stray white cat, who he called Tama. The situation at the temple worsened, and one day, the priest told Tama that he might be better off leaving and fending for himself. The cat did not go far, however. Tama sat beside the road near the temple preening himself (the way cats often do) as a storm began to brew. A samurai Lord and his men stopped to shelter under a nearby tree. When the samurai, Lord Ii Naotaka of Hikone, saw Tama’s paw raised as if beckoning to him, he approached the cat. As the samurai and his men moved away from the tree, it was struck by lightning. The cat had saved their lives. Lord Ii followed Tama to the temple, where he and his men were welcomed by the priest.

Grateful, and impressed by the priest, Lord Ii became the patron of the temple. Thanks to the lucky cat, the temple prospered. Later, when Tama died, he was given a place of honour in the temple cemetery, and the first beckoning cat statue was created in his memory. Word spread, and people began placing figurines of beckoning cats in their homes, shops and temples, believing it would bring them good luck and prosperity. Over time, the Lucky Cat statue became popular in China and eventually other countries as well.

Gotokuji Temple still exists, though what was once the village of Setagaya is now a suburb of Tokyo. Under the patronage of the Ii clan, Gotokuji expanded, and now includes a large graveyard where many important members of the Ii family are buried, a large Butsuden Buddha hall, a worship hall, a small older temple dedicated to Maneki Neko, a newly built wooden pagoda decorated with carved Maneki Nekos, and an office where Maneki Nekos statues and wooden emas (votive plaques) can be purchased.

(Small Maneki Neko temple on the large grounds of present-day Gotokuji)

(Gotokuji Pagoda -decorated with carved Maneki Neko)

The statues (purchased at the temple office) are customarily left as a kind of offering on outdoor shelves, which are filled with white cat statues (though the cats may also be kept as souvenirs).

Wishes or prayers are written on the back of the emas and hung on an outdoor board. People may pray or wish for any desire, but concern for pet cats is a special focus at Gotokuji (the temple’s graveyard is even said to have a section for the graves of beloved cats).

In Lord Ii’s day, it would have been a long horseback ride (or an even longer walk) from Edo to Setagaya. Today, it is a 20 minute train ride along the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku to Gotokuji station, then about a 15-20 minute walk from the station to Gotokuji Temple.

Emerging from the modern train station beside a Macdonalds Restaurant, it’s hard to imagine the old narrow dirt road that must have passed by the temple in Lord Ii’s time.

But walking along the bustling row of small shops following the Beckoning Cat street banners, there are glimpses of a past way of life in the laughter exchanged between neighbouring shopkeepers, an old woman serving noodles in a family-run restaurant, futons draped over a fence to air beside the road….

Turning off the busy road and away from the banners, there is a sense of stepping back into a less hurried time and onto a kind of pilgrimage. After walking along a quiet back street of modest houses and gardens, you eventually come alongside a tall white wall with the tops of grave markers visible beyond. Follow the wall until you come to the gate, and you have reached Gotokuji Temple, the home of the first Maneki Neko. Whether or not you believe in the magic of Maneki Neko, you know you have arrived some place special.

(Entrance gate at Gotokuji Temple, Setagaya, Tokyo)

Welcome to the Lucky Cat – Maneki Neko blog!

8 Apr

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.