A Maneki Neko – a beckoning cat. Surely you’ve seen them – a cat statue on the counter of a Japanese or Chinese restaurant, with one or both paws raised. Some are static statues, while others are battery powered, waving that paw up and down until the battery goes flat.
Why are waving cats good luck?
It seems there are lots of Japanese stories about how cats came to be regarded as good luck. I’ll only include two of them here – but if you know of any more, please let me know.
The Temple Cat
The feudal lord of Hikone was walking past the poor temple of Gotokuji in Edo (modern day Tokyo) when he saw the temple cat beckoning to him. Curious, the lord entered the temple. As soon as he was under shelter, a severe storm broke. He was very grateful to both the cat and the temple it served, so he made a large donation to the temple, designating it as his family temple.
When the cat died, he had Shobyodo Temple (beckoning cat temple) built on the Gotokuji grounds. The cat’s spirit was called Shobyo Kannon, the god of that temple, and people offered cat dolls at the temple to honour it.
The Old Woman’s Cat
An old woman living in Edo could no longer afford to feed her cat, so she released it at Imado Shrine. In her dreams that night, the cat appeared to her and told her to make a cat doll, so she wouldn’t be lonely any more.
She made several dolls and began to sell them. Slowly, the dolls became more and more popular and brought her wealth and happiness.
In honour of the good luck cat, a pair of male and female Maneki Neko now sit in the Imado Shrine.
What Kind of Luck?
Depending on the cat’s colour, paw positions and what it’s carrying, a Maneki Neko can bring all different sorts of luck to their owner.
If the right paw is raised, the cat is beckoning money. If it’s the left, the cat is calling customers. If it’s both paws, the cat’s trying to bring in both customers and money, but this can also mean protection.
Calico cats (White with orange and/or black spots) are the most traditional colours for Maneki Neko and they’re for general, all-around good luck. They’re considered the luckiest cat statues.
White cats are supposed to bring purity, positive things and happiness.
Gold cats are beckoning wealth and prosperity.
Black cats provide protection against evil spirits.
Cats in Hell
In the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance, cats were regarded by the Catholic Church as evil, associating with the devil and witchcraft. Cats were even mentioned in Papal Bulls about stamping out heresy, witchcraft and anything that wasn’t the church’s teaching. There are suggestions that so many cats were slaughtered in Europe at this time that the rat population exploded and this assisted in the spread of the plague.
And anyone who’s encountered an extremely cute cat video always wants just one more…they’re the ultimate temptation and time-waster, right?
My Maneki Neko
Now…on a more personal note, I saw these all over Japan when I first visited the country and I absolutely had to take one home with me as a souvenir. I bought a little row of the creatures, not knowing anything about the story. These guys sit on the shelf over my desk.
So, after researching Ploutos, the Roman deity of wealth, and the fourth circle of Hell, where the greedy people are supposed to go, fighting it out their eternity for their own, greedy reasons, my eyes fell on the little cats on my shelf and they HAD to be included. Only the Maneki Neko in Hell are luckier than just statues – they’re real, live, beckoning cats which raise their paws willingly to bring luck.
Now, just to confuse matters, Mel Goes to Hell is actually the title of the third book in my Mel Goes to Hell series, the reason I’ve been researching cats, Hell and all manner of other strange things.