The fortune cat is a lucky talisman that is very popular in Japanese and Chinese cultures. You have probably seen it in the front window or near the cash register of some Asian shops or restaurants. These adorable cat figurines typically hold a gold coin or fish in one hand, while inviting customers and good fortune with the other.
What’s in a name?
In Japanese, maneki-neko (pronounced ma-neck-ee-neck-o) means “beckoning cat” or “invitation cat.” But this lucky charm is also known as the Chinese lucky cat, the golden cat, the money cat, the welcoming cat and the fortune cat.
There are several stories about how the maneki-neko came to be. One classic tale focuses around a struggling restaurant, bar or temple where the owner takes in a hungry and neglected cat. In gratitude, the cat sits in front of the store, beckoning to customers and bringing prosperity.
Where in the world?
The maneki-neko originated in Japan, and most agree that these lucky cats first appeared during the Edo period (17th century to mid-19th century).
Some maneki-neko are designed to have moving arms. Like a bobblehead figurine, the arm can be set into motion by the touch of a hand. Some kinetic maneki-neko are solar-powered or run with a battery, allowing the arms to beckon for long periods of time.
Give a paw
Traditionally, the maneki-neko’s paw beckons with its paw facing forward in Japanese fashion. Some maneki-neko designed for Western markets have the cat’s paw facing backward.
Right or left
Maneki-neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised (and sometimes both). There are many different beliefs regarding the meaning of the raised paw. Many people think that a raised left paw brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth. Some believe the opposite, or that one paw is for luck and the other for wealth. Another theory is that a raised left paw attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it.
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