On this page you'll
find one of the stories of the Maneki Neko as well as an explanation of
their symbols and accessories (which decorate the background used on
this website). The latter is at the
bottom of the page.
Densetsu no Maneki Neko
The Legendary Beckoning Cat
"Nihon wa...Edojidai ni...hijou
ni mazushii biku to hijou ni mazushii neko wa hijou ni mazushii jinja ni
In Japan, during the Edo era,
there was a very poor priest and his very poor cat in their very poor
temple. The priest had no money for the upkeep of the temple, nor
did he have any food to fill his belly. Even the mice were
starving and were no meal for his cat Tama-chan. Tama-chan was a
good little cat and felt terrible for the priest's worrying so. As
she pondered what a simple cat like her could do to help, a storm rose
up and showered rain fiercely upon the land.
Naotaka-sama, a very wealthy man, was traveling when the rain ushered
forth. So he hid beneath one of the Sakura trees on the temple
grounds. Tama-chan noticed him resting there, and began calling
out to him. "Nya nya nya!" But Naotaka-sama could not hear
her over the pounding raindrops. Tama-chan felt her hair grow
bristly and knew she had to try harder. She cried again, louder,
and waved her paw to call him over. Her waving paw drew his
attention, and as he joined her on the temple steps, lightning struck
the Sakura tree he'd been standing under. He chose to thank Tama-chan
and the priest by making their poor little temple his family temple.
It was renamed Gotokuji (Gotoku Shrine) in his honour.
This is my favourite of the many
Maneki Neko or Beckoning Cat legends. The opening lines in
Japanese are from a short one-act table-top puppet play I performed in
2003. Gotokuji does actually exist in the city of
Setagaya. You can learn more by visiting the city's English page
Depending on colour, design,
raised paw, body position, etc, Maneki Neko beckon for all sorts of
things. Most commonly you will see them inviting fortune, luck, or
customers. They have also managed to become an icon in both
Japanese and Chinese culture.
This was created solely for the purpose of this
website. The crane, tortoise, money sack, and hammer were based on
the embroidered images on Marl, my dancing matsuri neko. The koban
coin and pot of coins were redrawn from lucky cat stickers I bought.
The rest of the images are original designs by me. All of these
items have been associated with lucky cats.
Here's what they all mean:
(left to right, top to bottom)
lucky rake; New Year's decoration for "raking in" good
This figure is based on the story of a Buddhist monk who
meditated for so long he lost his arms and legs. When you
get one, you paint in one eye and make a wish. If the wish
comes true, you fill in his other eye.
lucky gourd; used throughout the world as a container or
flask. In Japan they have come to be associated with
success and happiness, as seeds stored in these containers
always bloomed successfully. Thanks to the
Hyotan Bulletin for the info!
crane; fabled to live for a thousand years, the crane is a
symbol of longevity and good fortune.
sacred arrow; thought to possess divine powers as a bow
could ward off your enemies from a great distance. Over
the years the arrow has become a gook luck totem often purchased
at Shinto shrines. The kanji on the paper reads "goukaku"
and means 'success in passing a test' Thanks to the
Hyotan Bulletin for info!
Pot of Gold
filled with koban coins- see 'koban' below
sea bream; a symbol of good fortune as it is almost always
depicted with its captor, the god Ebisu. Ebisu is one of
the Seven Lucky Gods (or Shichifukujin), is the god of fishermen
and wealth, and is the only of the seven gods to have originated
A sack...with money. The kanji can be read as "ho" and
an old Japanese coin from the Edo period. The coin the
Maneki Neko carry is worth ten million times the actual coin
used. Sometimes a Neko's Koban will feature words of good
fortune rather than monetary amounts.
tailed tortoise; represent longevity as they are fabled to live
ten thousand years
Often you'll see Neko holding a plaque or sign with these kanji
on it. It is read as "ooiri" and means 'full house' (as in
Chinese gold/silver ingot; since the Maneki Neko has also
become a staple of Chinese culture, you'll often see them with
a lucky mallet carried by Daikoku (or Daikokuten) one of the
Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin) and often seen as Ebisu's
buddy. Daikoku is a god of bounty, as his mallet can bring
forth riches when it strikes. He and Ebisu are well loved
aong merchants and the working class.