The Story of the Maneki Neko
The origins of the Maneki Neko are shrouded in mystery, but there is no shortage of legends to explain the existence of this iconic good luck symbol. Here are two of our favourite legends:
Some say that the Maneki Neko was the legacy of a destitute widow from Tokyo, Japan. She doted on her pet cat but was so poor that eventually she had to abandon her feline companion as she could no longer afford to feed it. Ever faithful, her cat returned to the widow in her dreams, forgave her and suggested she should make a cat figurine through which she could remember her favourite pet.
The lady scraped together the money to buy enough clay to make a small simple model of her beloved cat, which she displayed in her window. Slowly but surely her luck began to change and through the kindness of both neighbours and strangers the woman was lifted out of poverty. People began to borrow her “lucky cat” and their fortunes were transformed too. As word of this special cat spread, people flocked to buy her clay cats, allowing her to live comfortably. As for the cat she had to abandon, well he no doubt landed on his feet and continued to live out his 9 lives doing exactly as he pleased!
Perhaps the best known Maneki Neko story dates from the 17th century. It tells of an impoverished monk who cared for his white cat, even while the Gotokuji Buddhist temple he occupied was falling into ruin. When he eventually told his feline companion that he would need to find alternative lodging, the loyal cat chose to stay, sitting at the temple gates.
One day, a wealthy feudal lord, Li Naotaka, was passing by when a huge thunderstorm erupted. The lord sheltered under a nearby tree. While waiting for the storm to pass he spotted the white cat at the temple gates beckoning him to come over. Curious, Li stood up and walked over to the cat. At that precise moment a huge bolt of lightening struck the tree, causing it to fall, exactly where, moments before, Li had been standing.
To express his gratitude for saving his life, Li rescued the monk’s temple from ruin. The Gotokuji temple still exists and is decorated with a myriad of white beckoning cats in honour of the lucky cat who saved Li Naotaka’s life and his master’s temple.
Whatever the origins of the Maneki Neko, in the 21st century, it is recognised worldwide as a symbol of good fortune and is a hugely popular accessory both in the home and the workplace.