When you visit a Chinese restaurant or shop, the first thing that usually greets you is not a person, but a cat. You don’t think that’s true? Think a little harder because you’ve probably seen waving lucky cat statues perched at the entrance of every Chinese establishment. They might seem like they serve no other purpose but for aesthetics and entertainment, but they’re actually more than just decorative items to catch people’s attention. Here are 7 facts about the iconic waving lucky cat statue.
1. The lucky cat statue originated from Japan.
Since the lucky cat statue has become such a popular Feng Shui item in Chinese culture, it’s easy to assume that it originated from China as well, but the first ever lucky cat statue actually came from Japan in the 17th century, with the originating city being either Tokyo or Kyoto. The statues are referred to as the Maneki-neko, which translates to “beckoning cat.”
2. The waving lucky cat isn’t actually waving at anyone.
As mentioned above, the cat is actually beckoning, but since Westerners have a different gesture for beckoning (i.e. with the palm up and the fingers curling towards them), they assumed that the cat was waving. The beckoning gesture also bears similarities to a cat washing its face. In both Japanese and Chinese culture, it is believed that when a cat washes its face, it means that visitors are about to arrive, hence why the lucky cat was eventually used to welcome customers.
3. There are 3 different origin stories for the lucky cat statue.
The first and most popular origin story took place in the Gotoku-ji Temple in Edo (now known as Tokyo). In this story, Ii Naotaka (the regional ruler) was taking shelter from a storm under a tree, when he saw a cat beckoning him into the nearby temple. Naotaka followed it, and moments later, the tree he had been standing under was struck by lightning. As a way of thanking the cat for saving his life, Naotaka became a patron of the temple and even gave the cat its own shrine. When the cat died, a statue of the Maneki-neko was erected to commemorate it.
The second story was about an old woman living in Imado (Eastern Tokyo) who was so poor that she had no choice but to abandon her pet cat. Later that night, the cat visited the woman in her dreams and told her that if she made dolls in its image, it would bring her good fortune. The woman did as she was told and made ceramic figurines in the cat’s likeness. She was able to make a fortune from selling the figurines.
The last story involved a Geisha and her pet cat. When the Geisha had a guest over, he thought the cat was possessed when it started clawing at its owner, so he beheaded it. The cat’s head conveniently landed on a snake that was about to attack the Geisha and killed it. The Geisha was saddened by what happened, so the guest gave her a wooden statue that was carved in the likeness of her cat to cheer her up.
Whichever origin story might be true, the cat always remains as a symbol of good luck, protection, and good fortune.
4. The raised paw has different meanings
A cat with its right paw raised is said to bring luck and good fortune, while a cat with its left paw raised invites new customers or people. A cat with both paws raised is believed to protect homes and businesses. It has also become a common belief that the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck, which is why there are some lucky cat statues that have paws extending high above their heads.
5. The color of the cat also represents something different.
Calico is the traditional color combination for the lucky cat, which symbolizes good luck and good fortune. Lately, gold has become a more popular color for lucky cats because it symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Some other examples include black lucky cats, which are believed to ward off evil spirits, and red lucky cats, which represent good health.
6. Lucky cats have different ornaments.
The lucky cat is most commonly holding a Koban, a coin from the Japanese Edo period, which is supposed to represent wealth. Other times, the cats are holding a mallet, a fish or a gem, which are all related to good fortune, although some believe that the gem also represents wisdom.
7. There are muscular lucky cats now.
This isn’t really a fact. I just wanted to let you know about this glorious creation.