Tag Archives: Maneki Neko

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.

Lucky Cat in lost Japantown

23 May

When the friendly waitress handed me this plate during dinner at a Japanese restaurant this past weekend, I knew there would be a story to share. Kudos restaurant is located in an old wooden house covered with vines on a tiny street in a small Vancouver island town where I least expected to find a Japanese restaurant. The meal was delicious, the waitress  and cook (I think they were also the owners) were welcoming and generous (serving us more than one on-the-house item) . . .

and Maneki Neko turned up in more than one spot.

It wasn’t until our after-dinner stroll around the block that we came across a mural and sign and realized that we were walking through what had once been a tiny but thriving Japantown.

Before WW II, the small sawmill town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island had a Japanese community of about 300 people. During the war, Canadians of Japanese descent were removed to internment camps (losing their homes and businesses), and many did not return afterward. Chemainus fell on hard times in the early 1980s when its mill closed, but transformed itself into a tourist destination as a town of outdoor murals. Though little remains of the original Japanese community, it is remembered in one of these murals.

The owners of Kudos restaurant (9875 Maple St –around the corner from the Hospital auxiliary thrift store in the lower part of Chemainus) immigrated from Japan a decade or so ago, and are part of a new community, which depends less on natural resource industries (though the mill has reopened) and more on arts, culture and tourism, (the town is now known for its murals, eclectic shops, and live theatre).

Metrotown Maneki Nekos

5 Jan

Looking for a place to buy a Lucky Cat in the Vancouver, BC area? Gift Surprises at the Metropolis (also known as Metrotown) Mall in Burnaby is one of the best places I’ve found (if you’ve got a bit of cash to spend). The store is full of cute Japanese plush toys and gifts, including character items such as Doraemon, Anpan Man, Totoro, and (of course) Hello Kitty.

(Located on the ground floor at the east end of the mall close to the Bay and beside the Best Buy Mobile store –below the food court)

These top shelf Maneki Neko (above) are the most expensive (I think the large one on the right was at least $100), and a selection of cellphone charms (including the ones below) is the least (approx $8-10).

If it’s that other cat you’re looking for (did you know Hello Kitty may actually have been inspired by Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat?), she can be found here in many sizes, outfits, and incarnations:

And once you’ve finished shopping, you may find yourself beckoned into the Japanese restaurant across the hall by these two Lucky Cats:

Lucky Cat welcome and delicious food!

2 Jul

We’ve been hoping to post a story about the current Maneki Neko exhibit at the Mingei Museum in San Diego (March 13, 2011 – Jan 15, 2012), but it looks like we’ll be making a couple more stops before then.

First, a plug for Narita Sushi Restaurant near the Metrotown Mall in Burnaby, which welcomes hungry diners with a Maneki Neko noren (the split curtain that traditionally hangs in the entrance to a Japanese shop) and friendly beckoning cats sitting on the counter under the noren. The food is great, and the service friendly. The chef even came out of the kitchen to ask how we enjoyed his unique yam tempura tries (dribbled with three delicious sauces). The fries were so good I can feel them beckoning to me as I write this!

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.

Lucky Cat contest!

26 Apr

To celebrate the launch of Mystery of the Missing Luck, a new kids’ book that features a Maneki Neko, we’ve teamed up with author Jacqueline Pearce to hold a special draw for a Lucky Cat prize pack. Mystery of the Missing Luck is a chapter book for kids ages 6-8 (published by Orca Book Publishers and illustrated by Leanne Fransen) about a young girl, her grandmother, and what happens when their Maneki Neko statue goes missing from the grandmother’s Japanese bakery.

The prize is a Lucky Cat bag full of unique Maneki Neko (beckoning cat) items from Japan (including a cute plush beckoning cat, a wooden prayer plaque from Gotokuji Temple where the first Maneki Neko originated, tabi socks, hashi/chopsticks, stickers, candy, charm, etc. as well as a signed copy of Mystery of the Missing Luck). All you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment here on this blog (letting us know you’d like to enter and what you think of Maneki Neko or this blog). For extra chances to win, you can also leave a comment on our Lucky Cat Facebook page, and on the author’s blog and Facebook page. We’ll give you a draw entry for each comment (one entry per site). Spread the word by posting a link to the contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter, let us know, and we’ll give you another entry. We’ll be holding the draw May 20 and announcing the winner here and on Facebook.

This is a great prize for Lucky Cat fans of all ages –lots of kawaii Maneki Neko stuff! And, while the book is for kids just starting to read novels, it’s also great for older ESL students. Good luck!

In Bamboo Groves Did the Maneki Neko Roam?

24 Apr

By Jean-Pierre Antonio, Suzuka International University, Japan

Despite the good luck associated with Maneki Neko, the beckoning cat, in general Japanese folk beliefs related to cats tend to be frightening. The domestic cat was believed to possess bewitching powers. In legends, a cat could transform into a woman, and there is even a legend of a vampire cat (the Vampire Cat of Nabeshima in Mitford’s Tales of Old Japan). These superstitions originated in China, where the cat was feared (perhaps because domestic cats live among humans yet retain their mystery and independence). The Japanese Buddhist belief that all animals gathered and wept at Buddha’s death except the cat and the snake, did not help the cat’s reputation. How then did the story of the cat that helped Lord Ii at Gotokuji Temple take root and lead to the creation of the much-loved Maneki Neko, which has spread around the world? How did the image of the cat turn from bad to good in Japan?

There is another animal in China that may explain this mystery. The tiger, although a powerful and terrifying creature, was also greatly respected and considered the King of the beasts. It was one of the Four Sacred Creatures and its breath was associated with the wind, one of the elemental forces of nature. It could ward off illness, demons and ill-fortune. In folk beliefs, the tiger was also considered a protector of travelers, because it was a traveler itself, roaming far and wide through the bamboo forests.

These positive beliefs about the tiger, like the negative beliefs about the common cat, were brought to Japan from China over the centuries. Some of these protective powers of the tiger may then have been transferred to at least one kind of cat, the tortoiseshell, which (because it is coloured orange, white and brown/black) is associated with a tiger, albeit a very small tiger. It is known that in Edo period Japan, ships’ captains liked to keep a tortoiseshell cat on board for good luck during their journeys. This kind of cat, like the tiger, was thought to be a protector of the traveler. The mythological ground was then already prepared for a story like that of Lord Ii receiving protection from a temple cat. Lord Ii was passing the temple when the cat’s  beckoning gesture induced him to move away from a tree, thus saving him from being hit by the lightning which then struck the tree. That cat at Gotokuji, that small tiger, fulfilled its role as protector and thus the legend was born.

The next time you pass a Maneki Neko be sure to show some respect, for in his eyes you may see the tiger that hides within.

Note from Lucky Cat-Maneki Neko: A male tortoise shell cat is also considered lucky because it is rare (tortoise shell cats are usually female -as color pattern is linked to lack of an X chromosome). Maybe the Japanese Bobtail breed is a result of attempting to combine a lucky cat with a cat that can’t turn into a vampire (apparently only long-tailed cats turned into vampires)

Maneki Neko and Japan Earthquake Relief

14 Apr

Here is a smiling manga Maneki Neko by artist Nina Matsumoto (aka SpaceCoyote), who donated her talent to raise funds for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief. You can see results from her “Smiles for Japan” commissions project here: 100 Smiles for Japan

Nina’s fundraiser is finished, but you can still help Japan recover from the devastating March 11, 2011 quake and its aftermath by donating to organizations such as:

Japanese Red Cross – You can donate through your national Red Cross Society (eg. US, Canada, UK Red Cross are working with and fund-raising for the Japanese Red Cross), or you can donate directly to the Japanese Red Cross

American Red Cross – response to Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Canadian Red Cross – Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami relief

Japan Society Earthquake Fund (a US non-profit organization, donating to four nonprofit organizations in Japan)

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support

Or support some of the creative projects that are donating proceeds to Japan earthquake relief:

Quake Book (official title is 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake – currently available as a Kindle ebook -proceeds to Japanese Red Cross)

Quakebook is perhaps the first anthology created through Twitter networking. In just over a week, a group of unpaid professional and citizen journalists who met on Twitter created the book to raise money for Japanese Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. In addition to essays, artwork and photographs submitted by people around the world, including people who endured the disaster and journalists who covered it, 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake contains a piece by Yoko Ono, and work created specifically for the book by authors William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein. See the Quakebook blog for more info and updates.

Songs for Japan -itunes download  (a compilation of hit songs by various artists -proceeds going to benefit Japan Relief)

Songs for Japan – CD (avilable from Amazon -proceeds to benefit Japan Relief)

New Rising Sun: stories for Japan (anthology being created by volunteer creative writers, editors, etc. from around the world –proceeds will go to the Red Cross Japan Earthquake Relief)

Etsy artists for Japan -many artists and craftspeople selling their work on Etsy are donating part or all of proceeds from the sale of certain items to help victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. See Etsy’s “Thinking of Japan” blog post for more info and links to artists and their work.

There are also many individuals and community groups who have been holding fund-raising events to help Japan (for example, Ganbare Japan! a benefit concert April 19 in Vancouver, Canada). Check with local newspapers and community organizations for details about what’s happening in your community. If we hear of more events and projects still in progress and open to a wider audience, we’ll add the links here.

Note: the image above right is the Quakebook logo, which seems the perfect symbol of the way people (within Japan and around the world) are coming together and reaching out to help the survivors of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

“…the discipline and strength of the survivors are inspiring the world.” – David Suzuki