Surely you have already seen this famous white, black or even golden cat also called lucky cat at the entrance to a pachinko, a business or an Asian restaurant called maneki-neko. Constantly moving its left paw, or even right in certain cases, it is increasingly present in French-speaking countries and even in Europe in general. We are therefore going to answer today a simple question but which ultimately is not so much when we look at its origin and its historical evolution over time.
Etymology of maneki-neko
The etymology of maneki-neko is certainly Japanese since it is a cross between the verb maneku which means “to invite” and neko which translates as “cat”. Literally maneki-neko therefore means “the cat that greets” or “the cat that invites”. This is why we find them precisely at the entrance to restaurants and stores because their purpose is to symbolize the welcome to guests. But over time the maneki-neko have also taken on an economic dimension since in addition to symbolizing welcome with the left paw which greets, the right paw is often more discreet, is intended to bring good fortune to its owner and money to its owner.
Origin of the raised paw of the maneki-neko
Although the etymological origin of the maneki-neko is Japanese, as we have just seen, this is not the case for its position in which it is always represented with its paw raised. Although it can change depending on the times and regions, most often we find it with the left paw raised. This position would therefore come from a Chinese proverb from the Tang dynasty: “The cat that washes its face passes by the ear, until the guest arrives”. So this paw raised to the ear would be nothing more than a diversion of this proverb. Therefore it is quite complicated to determine the exact origin of maneki-neko given that its etymology is Japanese and its position is taken from a Chinese proverb.
Legend about maneki-neko
Given that the origin of maneki-neko still remains quite vague, a legend had to appear in order to provide a concrete, although slightly irrational, answer to this question. Once upon a time, there lived a rich man with the rank of daimyo (lord) who was riding on a road with his samurai warriors on an affair of state. As a heavy rain fell on the group of men, the daimyo and his men took refuge under a tree which was not far from the Buddhist temple Gotoku-ji, which today has an altar dedicated to the maneki-neko. While they were trying to escape the heavy rain the lord saw a cat beckoning him to approach by raising its paw. Looking closely he saw a door which marked the entrance to the temple in question, slightly hesitant but finally taken by curiosity he ended up walking up to the cat. But alas, before he even reached the door, a bolt of lightning struck him and the man fell instantly.
When we know that the maneki-neko today partly symbolizes good fortune, it is indeed quite paradoxical to know that the legend attributed to it includes it as an extra causing bad luck. But nevertheless, this is indeed the legend that has been attributed to him. Consequently, to return to the very origin of the maneki-neko knowing that the legend which traces its first appearance in history is Japanese, we would rather tend to consider it as a Japanese cat if not Chinese.
Where to find a maneki-neko?
If you are lucky enough to get used to the year or to visit the Land of the Rising Sun archipelago soon, you will have no trouble finding a lucky cat in stores in Tokyo or even in the less touristy cities. However, if like many you don't have this chance you can still find some on our store or on Piggy Bank PeggyBank which offers an even wider choice of Japanese piggy banks.