Maneki-Neko may sound totally strange and foreign but you’ve probably seen one a million times before. Maneki-Neko translates to “waving cat” in Japanese, and that’s exactly what it is- a waving cat. You’ll probably have seen them in London’s China Town or in Chinese or Japanese shops and restaurants, sat on a shelf, waving away. The reason they’re seen in an abundance is because they’re considered to be a lucky talisman that will bring good luck to whomever owns one.
There are a variety of folktales surrounding the reasoning behind why maneki-neko is lucky. Some believe that someone who owned a run down tavern took in a stray cat that was starving and provided him with food, despite being starving themselves. To thank the kind individual, the cat stayed outside of the tavern for the rest of it’s days, beckoning customers in to the place, turning it into a prosperous business. This is why maneki-neko is so popular with small business owners, even today!
Another story says that a man was sheltering under a tree from a terrible storm. Over in the distance, he saw a cat beckoning to him. He moved towards the cat, and moments later, the tree he was previously stood under was struck by lightening and burnt to the ground. This was the turning point, allegedly, when cats became lucky symbols and were believed to be kind, wise spirits.
An alternative story suggests an old woman was so poor she was forced to sell her pet cat. One night, her pet cat visited her in her dreams and told her to make a statue of it out of clay. The next day the woman was left confused but did as she had been instructed. She ended up selling the statue for a fair bit of money…so made more and more and kept on selling them, turning her life of poverty round to quite a prosperous one, thanks to her pet cat!
There are an abundance of other stories but all tell the same tale- maneki-neko cats are lucky because they bring happiness and prosperity to anyone who owns one!
In China and in Japan, not only will small businesses display these waving cats to bring prosperity to their shops, but some casino’s will also display them, to bring good luck to the players who are having a gamble! Some will even make sure to touch a maneki-neko before they gamble, in the hope that they will be granted the same prosperity as told in ancient folklore.