招き猫/Maneki-neko is a cat doll and it is believed that it brings good luck to the owner. It gained popularity in the feng shui movement in China, but it originated in Japan. They are translated as “Lucky Cats” or “Beckoning Cats” in English. Each cat has some meanings and there are interesting legends about its origin.
Common features and meanings
Cat dolls we see these days are usually made of ceramic or plastic, but you may find them made of different materials like wood or even real gold. They are traditionally seated with one paw raised in a beckoning gesture (the Japanese beckoning gesture is done by holding up a hand with palm down, and folding the fingers down and back repeatedly). A doll with the left paw raised is to bring in more customers and the right paw raised is to get more money. If both paws are raised, a cat doll is providing protection. It is believed that the higher the paw is raised, the more luck the cat invites.
Some of them hold a Koban coin, a gold coin used in the Edo period with the amount of money written on it. 千万両/Sen-man ryo is often used, which is ten million 両/Ryo (Ryo was the monetary unit used in the Edo period. 1 Ryo was about $1,000).
Maneki-neko cats come in different colors and the most common color is white.Some of them are battery- or solar-powered and move arms endlessly in the beckoning gesture.
Cat dolls are often placed at the entrance of shops, restaurants, and other businesses so that they can welcome good fortune from the outside.
Although the exact birthplace of Maneki-neko is uncertain, It is commonly believed that it originated in Tokyo, (some insist it was Kyoto). And it is most likely that Maneki-neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period.
Among many legends about the birth of Maneki-neko, the most popular is the legend of Gotoku temple. Once upon a time in the 17th century in Tokyo, there was a monk lived in a small temple. He was very poor but he cared his pet cat, Tama, and did not forget to share meals. Then there came the feudal lord of Hikone area, Lord Naotaka. He was on his way to do some huntings, and a storm came suddenly. He found a big tree near the temple and decided to stay there for a while. He noticed Tama raising one paw as if beckoning him to the temple. He was very curious and followed Tama and went inside of the temple. It was then that a lightning bolt hit the tree where he was and started pouring down. Thanks to Tama, Lord Naotaka was safe and he didn’t even need to get wet. He became the patron of the temple and repaired it and renamed it 豪徳寺/Gotoku temple in 1697 which made the monk happy as well. When Tama died, he was buried in a special grave and a statue of Beckoning cat was made to commemorate Tama.
Another famous legend is a story of a cat sat in front of the store beckoning customers for poor shop owners and the place became popular. Whatever the origin was, the thing in common is that a beckoning cat brings good luck to the owner.
Address: Gotokuji, Tokyo prefecture 2-24-7
Today’s words and phrases
・Once upon a time 昔々
・On one’s way to 〜へ行く途中で
・Decide to 〜すると決める
・be buried 埋められる
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