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Curious Cat-World:  Maneki-Neko, the Japanese Lucky Cat

By Donald Hargrove
From the Home2Cats Memphis "The Scratching Post" newsletter, Summer, 2001.

Maneki Neko ("Beckoning Cat" in English) is the famous "Lucky Cat" of Japan. With his paw raised in welcome, he may be found almost anywhere in that country, inviting not only good-luck, but also money, customers, love, health, and even high marks in school.

He is most often seen in the form of a white ceramic or porcelain cat figurine with orange and black spots, resembling the tricolor Japanese Bobtail known in Japan as "Mi-ke."  He may also be carved from wood or stone, molded from plastic or metal, or have his image printed onto objects such as clothing, household items, and even advertising. 

His most important feature is that raised paw, which may be his left, his right, or, occasionally, both at the same time.  There is much debate over the significance of that paw -- The most popular interpretation being that the left paw attracts visitors, the right attracts wealth and good fortune, and two-paws-up provides protection.

In addition, he may be found in many different colors, such as pink for "love" or black to repel evil; he may hold various symbolic objects, such as a fish for "abundance" or a coin for "wealth"; and he may be decorated with pictures or Asian words, such as turtles for "longevity" or a "fuku" character for "happiness".  As you may imagine, there are literally thousands of different manekinekos!  And they're still coming up with new ones!

A collector's dream (or nightmare), he has been cherished and collected by the Japanese ever since his undocumented beginning somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years ago.  And his popularity continues to increase, now world-wide, due to his charm and wide appeal to those who love cats, desire an attractive good-luck token, and/or admire Oriental antiques and fine arts.  He's also produced more than a few "too-cute" offspring, such as Hello Kitty, the Pokemon monsters, and Wachifield's wonderful "Dayan" character.

Where can you find Maneki Neko?  First and foremost, the World Wide Web!  Many, many Japanese and English-language websites are published by artists, collectors, and even online vendors of the celebrated "Welcomer Cat".  There are also Maneki Neko fan clubs, Maneki Neko web-rings, Yahoo's "manekinekocollectors" email news-group, and, of course, eBay, where he sometimes sells for as little as a few cents and other times for as much as a thousand dollars.

Here in America, he sits in many store windows and perches on the cash registers of Asian restaurants. He can be purchased in gift-shops, antique malls, and, of course, in Asian grocery-markets. American artists and crafts people are now creating their own versions of Maneki Neko: Pat and Peter Tyber have added Tybernekos to their TyberKatz line of cat-dolls; Emily Ito, of Lightwaves Contemporary Jewelry, creates tiny MN charms of sterling silver; Southern craftsperson Linda Tong carves and paints manekinekos in Thai black-lacquer style; and a number of American artists customize them with wild colors, textures, and themes to sell on eBay.

The Japanese Maneki Neko Club says "Fill the world with Maneki Neko" and that's exactly what's happening ...

For more information and/or a list of online Maneki Neko sellers, please visit my website, "My Maneki Neko Lucky Cats" (www.my-manekineko.com) or go directly to my collection of Maneki links at http://members.tripod.com/DonaldMoon/neko/links.html.


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12/26/09