2023 Author: Alex Livingston | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 11:39
If you have ever visited Japan, it is very likely that you have come across a symbol frequently displayed in local offices, restaurants, shops and even temples. Maneki Neko. In this article we will talk about him and the legends that concern him.
The Maneki Neko (literally "beckoning cat") is a popular one lucky charm also widespread in China. It depicts, both in ceramic figurines and in illustrations hanging on the walls, a seated Japanese Bobtail cat with a raised front paw in greeting or reminder.
It is so famous that in Japan it even has its own festival, called Kuru Kuru Maneki Neko Matsuri and celebrated from 29 September to 10 October. But what are the origins of this figure and why is it thought to bring good luck?
As is often the case with beliefs strongly rooted in a people's culture, it is difficult to establish with certainty when this representation originated and why. Some claim it comes from the city of Osaka, others from Tokyo; and like any self-respecting legend it is present in multiple versions depending on the region in which it is investigated. The most famous of these legends however it is set in the Edo period (1603-1867):
A long time ago there was a monk who lived in poverty in a small temple. He had a cat with him and took care of him as if he were his own son, sharing with him the little food he had. One day the monk said to the cat: "If you want to thank me in some way, bring me some luck". After many months, one summer afternoon the monk heard noises coming from the entrance gate and saw five or six samurai warriors returning home, who approached him leaving their horses on the path.
They said: We were about to pass through your gate, but there was a cat curled up in the doorway and suddenly it raised a paw and started shaking it when it saw us. We were surprised and intrigued, and this led us to enter here”. All of a sudden the sky clouded over and a violent storm broke out. Lightning struck where the horses were still waiting for their masters. Happy to have escaped certain death, the samurai made a generous donation to rebuild the temple which had fallen into poverty, which became rich and famous.
Maneki Neko statuettes exhibited at Gotokuji temple.
According to other versions, the monk simply housed and fed the samurai during the storm, receiving a hefty reward after discovering that one of them was actually a king. The temple in which the legend is set really exists and is called Gotokuji o Cat Temple, as there are dozens if not hundreds of Maneki Neko statuettes on display. A common belief is that owners of lost or stray cats go to this temple to pray to be able to find their four-legged friend soon.
However, it was only in Meiji period (1868 - 1912) that the Maneki Neko began to appear with regularity and progressive frequency in the main Japanese commercial establishments. This sudden increase in popularity is attributed by some scholars to the reopening of the country towards the West and the consequent replacement of some lucky images considered too licentious with the much more reassuring cat-shaped statuettes.
There are several ways in which the Maneki Neko is depicted, and each of them has a particular meaning. For example, if he raises his left paw it means that he is inviting customers to enter, if he raises the right one his purpose is to attract money and good luck. Or again, if both legs are raised, it has the purpose of protecting the house or shop in which it is placed.
Even the color has a precise role: if the tricolor cat is the most widespread and powerful lucky charm, there are also versions of white (purity), red (against disease), black (against evil spirits), blue (to safeguard health), golden (to attract wealth), pink (to find love), green (to be successful in studies).
What if they hold something in their hand? Here is the corresponding meaning:
- A koban of the value of a ryo: it is a Japanese currency of the Edo period, in which a ryo was considered a huge sum of money;
- A little hammer: represents wealth, especially when agitated;
- A fish, usually a carp: the fish symbolizes abundance and luck in business.
- A Precious stone or a marble: it is another symbol of wealth, according to some also of wisdom.
Nowadays, Maneki Neko has a huge influence on Japanese popular culture and also makes an appearance in manga and anime. The most famous and widespread example is certainly Hello Kitty, whose name itself is the result of a clumsy translation of "cat beckoning".
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It comes from the Far East and has a funny and nice short tail: the Japanese Bobtail is a cat from appearance particular and with mysterious origins. The Japanese Bobtail seems to have all the advantages, in addition to being very beautiful it is also tender, affectionate and playful.
It comes from the Far East and yours origins are lost in time: the Japanese Bobtail is a cat with a very special history. The feline race has been the prerogative of Asian countries for centuries and only recently has it spread to the rest of the world.
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