it is believed that Maneki Neko first appeared during the later part of
the Edo period (1603–1867) in Japan the earliest documentary evidence
comes from the 1870s, during Japan's Meiji Era. It is mentioned in a
newspaper article in 1876 and there is evidence kimono-clad Maneki Neko
were distributed at a shrine in Osaka during this time. An ad from 1902
advertising Maneki Neko indicates that by the turn of the century they
A frequent attribution to several Japanese
emperors, as well as to Oda Nobunaga and samurai Ii Naotaka, is that one
day the luminary passed by a cat, which seemed to wave to him. Taking
the cat's motion as a sign, the unknown nobleman paused and went to it.
Diverted from his journey, he realized that he had avoided a trap that
had been laid for him just ahead. Since that time, cats have been
considered wise and lucky spirits. Many Japanese shrines and homes
include the figurine of a cat with one paw upraised as if waving—hence
the origin of Maneki Neko, often referred to as Kami Neko in reference
to the cat's kami or spirit.
Others have noted the similarities between the
Maneki Neko's gesture and that of a cat washing its face. There is a
Japanese belief that a cat washing its face means a visitor will soon
arrive. This belief may in turn be related to an even older Chinese
proverb that states that if a cat washes its face, it will rain. Thus it
is possible a belief arose that a figure of a cat washing its face
would bring in customers.
Legends and stories
Maneki Neko is the subject of a number of legends. Here are three of the most popular, explaining the cat's origins:
The Temple Cat: This story goes that a wealthy
feudal lord was taking shelter under a tree near Gotoku-ji temple (in
Western Tokyo) during a thunderstorm. The lord saw the temple priest's
cat beckoning to him and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by
lightning. The wealthy man became friends with the poor priest and the
temple became prosperous. When the cat died, supposedly the first Maneki
Neko was made in his honor.
The Courtesan: A courtesan named Usugumo, living in
Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her. One
night, the cat began tugging at her kimono. No matter what she did, the
cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat
bewitched, cut its head off. The cat's head then flew to the ceiling
where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was
devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her
customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat
image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.
The Old Woman: An old woman living in Imado
(eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon
afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make
its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the
statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so
popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.
View our selection of lucky cat favors and statues. They make the perfect gift!