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Maneki-Neko: the cats of good luck

2015/01/23 ORIOL SALVADOR |

Maneki-neko (招き猫), a Japanese kitty with the paw rised, has gained huge popularity in Western culture over the past few years - you can find on the shelves of the bazaars or even starring advertisement for a drink - but its true meaning and origin is still unknown to many people.

There are several legends that explain the origin of maneki-neko. The most widely accepted goes back to the age of feudal lords in Japan, in the Edo era, late 17th century, which goes as following: there was a temple in Tokyo with serious financial difficulties and its very poor priest had a cat named Tama.

One day, a rich feudal lord, Ii Naotaka, was caught in a storm while hunting near the temple. He took refuge under a large tree until the cat pointed him to take shelter in the temple. As he approached, lightning struck the tree that had given him shelter so far. Thankful, Ii Naotaka funded the reparation of the temple and helped economically the priest and his cat.

When Tama died, the cat received a funeral with full honours at the cemetery for cats in Gotokuji Buddhist temple, in the area of Setagaya (Tokyo), which still stands today and was recently expanded.

In the Gotokuji temple there are many members of the Ii family buried. There is also a Butsudan space, a hall for worship and an older small temple dedicated to maneki-neko, next to a store where you can buy various souvenirs related to the popular feline figure.

The popular tradition says that putting a reproduction of maneki-neko at work or home brings good luck; you will find them often next to cash machine at stores or restaurants. Indeed, the figures have different meanings depending on their colour or paw rising:

If the left paw raise is to attract customers, if it raises the right paw is to attract luck and money. You can even find figures rising both, that represents protection.

As for the colors, calico – a cat with three colours, very common in Japan - brings good luck, wealth and prosperity; white cat signifies purity and happiness; the golden means wealth and prosperity; red protects from evil and disease, especially to children; pink attracts love, relationships and romance and, finally, the green helps in education and studying.



Source: Conoce Japón and Japonismo.

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