If you’re like me, you love the Japanese culture! You watch a lot of anime or perhaps some Japanese drama. You read a lot of manga and enjoy playing video games that are “made in Japan.”
If what I’m saying rings true for you, then there’s one thing that you’ve no doubt seen a lot of, that you might be wondering about. You may have asked yourself this question: what is the Japanese lucky cat all about?
It’s actually a pretty cool story, and there are a lot of little details to it, so let me share with you what I’ve learned about Japan’s favorite feline.
What Is The Japanese Lucky Car?
The Japanese lucky cat is called 招き猫 (maneki neko) which translates as “beckoning cat” in English.
What is this cat “beckoning” you may ask? The basic answer is wealth and good fortune. However, it actually gets a little more specific than that depending on two primary factors: which paw is raised and what color the cat is.
I’ve decided to go into more depth on each of those in the next two sections, so I won’t get into them right now.
Getting back to the basic gist of this lucky charm… You will often see them in the windows of local shops since the owners (usually the mom & pop type) are hoping to attract some extra fortune in terms of both customers and profits.
I remember playing Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on the N64 as a kid and scouring the land for these little white cat statues with their big gold coins and raised paws.
Alright, let’s get into the details of the paws now, and then I’ll talk more about the coin near the end of this post.
Left Paw Or Right Paw?
As it turns out, there is a significant meaning attached to which paw the cat has raised in the statue.
You will typically only see one of the paws raised, but sometimes you will see them both up in the air. Think back to the cat’s English name: beckoning cat.
Another word for “beckoning” in “inviting.” But what exactly is this cat inviting? Well, when the right paw is raised the cat is inviting money, wealth, and good fortune.
On the other hand (pun intended) when the left paw is raised high in the sky, the cat is inviting in customers, friends, or just people in general.
So the next time you’re in the market for a key chain, statue, or wall paper of one of these good luck kitties, think about what you want more of in your life, money or people, and then be sure to pick the cat who is holding the correct hand up.
What Does The Color Signify?
Originally, there was only one color for this cat and it was white. This is probably why white is the most common color and the one that you are most likely to see when you are going about your day.
That being said, over the years there have been many additional colors added and each one brings with it a different flavor and a different fortune similar to how the raised paws were slightly different.
At a glance, the white color is meant to bring overall good luck and good fortune. In other words, it’s just a general invitation for good things to happen to you, and then if you want to narrow it down a little more you can do so by selecting the correct paw.
The second color that I want to talk about is the second most common: gold baby!
If you see a gold or yellow cat, then you can be sure that the person who owns it is trying to attract one thing: wealth!
I assume this comes from the color of gold, which is the historical currency that was most favored by most cultures back in the day, including Japan.
Think about it this way, if a person has a gold cat with it’s right paw raised then they are trying doubly hard to attract more prosperity into their life and business!
In fact, it’s probably no surprise that this is one cultural element that Japan shares with China. And as it so happens, when I go to my local Chinese buffet to enjoy a delicious meal with my father, the owners of the restaurant have one of these gold cats right at the register.
Moving on to my personal favorite color, we are going to see what the red color bring us. In this case, it is good health.
Nothing more to say about this one.
Then we have black cats. Contrary to American superstition of black cats bringing bad luck, the Japanese culture actually sees black cats as a good omen!
Why is this? Well, it’s because black cats are said to ward off evil spirits in the Japanese culture. And that helps us to understand what the black cat statue is supposed to do for its owner: ward off evil!
I don’t know if that’s something you need help with, but if so then you had better get one quick!
As for the last color, it is pink. What do you think this one brings you? Well, if you’re thinking about pink hearts and love, then you are correct!
The pink cats bring romance into you live, so there’s no need to be forever alone. Get one of these pink cats and you’re just asking to fall in love!
What Does The Coin Say?
Have you even noticed the type of coin that this cat is holding? It’s this rather large, oval shaped coin that is super common to see in Japanese video games.
Well as it turns out, this is called a 小判 (koban) and was a currency used in Japan during the Edo period.
This brings up a common Japanese proverb:
- neko ni koban
- Gold coins to a cat
- “Pearls cast before swine.”
In other words, don’t waste something of value on someone who isn’t able to appreciate it.
Getting back to the matter at hand, there is an inscription on the 小判 that the 招き猫 is holding in his or her non-raised paw and it is 千万両 (sen man ryou) which means “ten million ryo” (Tofugu).
Back in the Edo period, the “ryo” was a measurement of the currency similar to how we count “dollars” even though a person might be holding a 100-dollar bill.
At any rate, this number signifies an amount of money that would change a person’s life and ensure that they never have to work another day again in their life.
If you’re a big fan of the video game Pokemon, then you are most likely familiar with Meowth (or ニャース in the Japanese version) who is a white cat with one of these “koban” in its forehead.
I remember using that little guy’s move “Pay Day” which threw coins the other Pokemon to inflict damage and then you would earn extra money after the battle.
Just another way to invite fortunate into your life!
Are You Going To Get One?
I think that the beckoning cat is a pretty fun aspect of the Japanese culture. I’ve even got a key chain of a white one with the right paw raised!
What about you? Do you have any of these Japanese good luck charms lying around your place?
If you do, then let me know about it with a comment down below! Or if you are just thinking about getting one, I’m curious as to what color you would choose and if you would get the left or right paw raised, or both!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: