Maneki Neko - The Lucky Cat of The Japanese
By Michael Russell
Luck is loved by everyone, especially anyone who runs a business. This is even more important to Japanese merchants because they are extremely superstitious. They often place behind or in front of their stores some kinds of lucky charm, in the hope that their business will run smoothly. The most popular kind of lucky charm in Japanese stores is a figurine which has the shape of a cat waving its paw. That's the "Maneki Neko".
Maneki Neko is loved by everyone for its round face and lovely big eyes. That may be the reason why it is chosen as a symbol of luck. It looks like a cat waving his paw to greet the customers but actually, that's the gesture of a cat washing its face. The cat often washes its face whenever it feels the rain is coming. Moreover, because of its sensitivity, the cat often feels restless when there's someone coming near it. To release its fear, the cat washes its face. From this gesture of the cat, the Japanese assume that every time a cat washes its face there will come a customer. In addition to that, a cat washing its face looks like it is greeting someone. Therefore, the Japanese believe if they put a figurine of a cat with that "greeting" gesture in front of their stores, the customers will come in.
However, this is just an interpretation. There are bundles of folktales and explanations why Maneki Neko is chosen as a lucky charm. However, the main characteristic of all the stories about Maneki Neko's origin is that the cat saved its owner from dangers or illness and poverty and the owner became prosperous.
Most people believe that it has different meanings when Maneki Neko waves its right paw or left paw. If it's waving with the right paw, that means there will be more luck and wealth to the merchant and if it's waving with the left paw, more customers will come in. The higher it waves the paw, the more customers, wealth and luck will come to the merchant.
Collecting Maneki Nekos is a hobby of many Japanese people and they even set up Maneki Neko clubs. Maneki Nekos nowadays are not only thought of as lucky charms for Japanese merchants but have become a symbol of luck to everyone in Japan and in many other countries around the world.
Michael Russell- Your Independent guide to Japan
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