Maneki Neko (good fortune cat)
The Maneki Neko became popular in Japan during the latter half of the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) as a symbol of good luck and fortune. Throughout Japan small statues and images of this cat appear in doorways and shelves of businesses and residences.
There are several legends about the origins of the maneki neko. The most popular legend the tells the story of a rundown and poverty-stricken temple in Setagaya, in the western part of Tokyo during the 17th century. The temple's priest was very poor, but he shared what little food he had with his pet cat, Tama.
One day, a wealthy and important man was caught in a storm while hunting and he took refuge under a big tree near the temple. While he waited for the storm to pass, the man noticed a cat beckoning him to come inside the temple gate. This was so startling he left the shelter of the tree to have a closer look at this unusual cat. At that moment, the tree was struck by lighting. As a result, the wealthy man became friends with the poor priest, and the temple became prosperous. The priest and his cat never went hungry again.
When Tama died he was buried in the Goutokuji Temple's cat cemetery with respect and love, and the Maneki Neko was made in honor of him. A Maneki Neko in your place of business or your home is said to bring good luck and fortune.
Some say the white cat represents purity, but black cats have traditionally been considered lucky in Japan, able to ward off evil or cure illness in children. Red-colored Maneki Neko have been used to exorcise evil spirits and to combat illness, while gold-colored cats invite money and pink ones attract love. However, in Japan's not so distant past, red and pink cats were thought to have supernatural powers and were avoided.
The red collar with bell found on most Maneki Neko probably originated from a custom of the Edo Period. During those days, affluent ladies adorned their cats (an expensive pet at the time) with red collars made of hichirimen (Camellia Japonica, a red flower), and small bells were attached to the collar to help the owners keep track of their pets.
Some Maneki Neko carry a koban (gold coin from the Edo Period). Worth one ryou (a measure of value during the 17th-19th century), it is said the koban carried by the Maneki Neko is much more valuable, worth ten million ryou.
Maneki Neko images lifting up their left paw are beckoning customers to enter the store, while right paws are said to attract money and good fortune (e.g., piggy banks in the shape of the Maneki Neko hold up their right paw). Paw height is also significant. The higher the paw, the more expansive the reach of the cat's lucky magic.