By Ramata Cisse

A long long time ago, there lived a monk and his cat in a temple, called Goutokuji (豪徳寺). The monk was very poor, but still looked after his cat with the greatest care and always shared his meals. One day, a samurai found himself taking shelter from a storm underneath a tree close to the temple. As he looked across, the monk’s cat was waving his paw at him, as if beckoning him to come in. Intrigued, the samurai entered the temple. As he walked away from the tree that had been sheltering him, lightening struck, causing the tree to fall over where he had been standing moments before.

The cat’s beckoning had saved his life.

豪徳寺 / Gotokuji, Temple - Setagaya, Tokyo豪徳寺 / Gotokuji, Temple – Setagaya, Tokyo / Ogiyoshisan


The samurai stayed and listened to the monk’s wonderful sermons. Grateful to the cat that had saved his life, and the monk’s generous hospitality, the samurai would offer some of his wealth to Goutokuj, and eventually it became a prosperous temple. When the cat passed away, he was given a special burial and a statue was erected in its likeness. Thus, the representation of maneki-neko (招き猫) we all know and love today was brought to life…

This legend is but one story of the origin of the maneki-neko. Another variation of this legend says that it was in fact a the feudal lord of Hikone walking by. He noticed the temple cat waving and beckoning him to come in, and so he did. Soon after, there was a big storm, and the lord was grateful to the cat for having avoided the storm. He donated money to rebuild the temple and even made it his family temple.

豪徳寺・招き猫 / Manekineko in Gotokuji - Setagaya, Tokyo豪徳寺・招き猫 / Manekineko in Gotokuji – Setagaya, Tokyo / Ogiyoshisan


There are several other interesting stories, but although the legends differ, there is one thing they all share in common: a cat that brings fortune. Which is why the maneki-neko is often also called the fortune cat, the lucky cat or the money cat. He is also known as the beckoning cat or the welcoming cat.

Maneki-neko is often represented with a raised paw. There are many interpretations of what that means depending on regions. Some believe that a raised left paw brings in customers, while the right paw brings good luck and fortune. Others say that a raised left paw attracts money, but the right protects it. The left is sometimes viewed as being for businesses, while the right is for the home. Whichever the interpretation, owning a maneki-neko with both paws raised would seem to be the ideal.

Maneki Neko
Maneki Neko / BONGURI

Maneki-neko also comes in different colours. The most common one you will see is the calico version, with a red collar and a gold bell. This one is the most traditional and considered to be the most fortunate. Other colours include white, gold, black, red, green, silver, yellow and even pink. The colour white represents happiness, purity and good luck; gold brings wealth and prosperity; black wards of evil spirits; red protects from illnesses, but may also brings success in love and relationships; green will bring good health; sliver brings longevity; yellow strengthens relationships, and pink is again for love.

You will also often see the figurine with a koban (Japanese coin from the Edo period) worth one ryo, which was quite a sum back in the days. Other times he may be carrying a fish, which again is a symbol of good fortune and wealth.

As you can see legends of the origin of maneki-neko differ, different interpretations of his raised paws exist and he comes in a variety of colours and ornaments. However, one thing is for certain, the happiness on his face and fortune (under and shape or form) he brings to his owner. No wonder he is one of Japan’s most beloved lucky charms.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

豪徳寺の招き猫たち豪徳寺の招き猫たち / ginza_line