Did you know that Maneki Neko aka the Beckoning Cat is made for good luck and often time, associted with bringing wealth to families or businesses. The sculpture is very popular in Japan. In fact, its popularity has swept through Asia and become a fixture at the door of many businesses.
One of the cat's paws is powered by batteries or electricity to move up and down as a welcoming or beckoning gesture.
Due to the difference in gestures and body language recognized by Westerners and the Japanese, with Japanese beckoning by holding up the hand, palm out, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back up, thus the cat's appearance. Some Maneki Neko made specifically for Western markets will have the cat's paw facing backwards, in a beckoning gesture more familiar to Westerners. - Wikipedia
There are many stories about the orgins of Maneki Neko, though the exact origins are uncertain. One of them is about Samurai Li Naotaka who ran into a cat one day, noticing that the cat was waving at him as if she was directing him to a different path. The samurai went for it and later discovered that he could have been killed in a trap that was set up for him, should he have never changed his route.
Cats have always been considered "wise and lucky spirits" in Japan. There are many legends and stories that depict heroism in cats:
The Temple Cat: This story goes that a wealthy feudal lord was taking shelter under a tree near Gotoku-ji temple (in Western Tokyo) during a thunderstorm. The lord saw the temple priest's cat beckoning to him and followed; a moment later the tree was struck by lightning. The wealthy man became friends with the poor priest and the temple became prosperous. When the cat died, supposedly the first Maneki Neko was made in his honor.
The Courtesan: A courtesan named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her. One night, the cat began tugging at her kimono. No matter what she did, the cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat bewitched, cut its head off. The cat's head then flew to the ceiling where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.
The Old Woman: An old woman living in Imado (eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.
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