The Charm of Good Fortune


I bought a little wind chime at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival that looked like Maneki Neko, which I found puzzling since the cat doll spawned from two Japanese folktales. A cute little cat doll with its paw raised is often found sitting in souvenir shops and folk craft shops. I do see it in Chinese shops too and found out that in China,  the Cantonese call it Chew Choi Mao (fortune bringing cat).  How it crossed over to become part of Chinese culture too I have not found a definitive answer.

Since old times, cats had been kept at home in Japan to get rid of rats that gave damage to crops. And in about 18th century, cats had come on the scene as "Maneki Neko," a cat doll that brings good luck. In today's Japan, Maneki Neko is frequently found sitting near the entrance of shops. Shop owners put it there wishing for prosperity in business. There are interesting legends about the origin of Maneki Neko.

In the Edo Period, when the feudal lord of Hikone walked by a temple in Edo on his way home from falconry, the temple's cat was beckoning to the lord in front of the temple gate. So he stopped by at the temple and had some rest. Just then, the clouds covered the sky all the sudden and a severe thunderstorm arrived. Not getting wet, the lord was so glad that he made a lot of donation to re-build the poverty-stricken temple. And he designated this temple as his family temple. This temple is Gotokuji Temple which still exists in Tokyo. When the cat died, Shobyodo temple (beckoning cat temple) was built in the temple's ground and the cat has become a god called Shobyo Kannon. Visitors to the temple started to offer Maneki Neko, a cat doll to show their gratitude when their wish came true.

There is another legend in Edo (Tokyo). An old woman was forced to let go of her dear cat due to extreme poverty. And she let the cat go in Imado Shrine. That night the cat appeared in her dream and said, "You will be happy if you make a doll in the image of me." So she made ceramic dolls in the image of her cat and sold them to see what happens. Soon after, the dolls became popular and that made the old woman happy. Today, a pair of female and male Maneki Neko sitting close together in Imado Shrine has become famous. And the shrine is popular among young women as a shrine of "Enmusubi (tying the knot)" that helps to get married. At the shrine a big beckoning cat welcomes the visitors.

For the most part, if you want to buy one, keep in mind the position, color and objects written on or held by the cat has meaning. Tri-color Cat: (modeled after the Japanese bob-tail breed, this is a popular & traditional color for lucky cats, beckoning general good luck, wealth, prosperity). White Cat: purity, happiness. Black Cat: safety, wards off evil and stalkers. Golden Cat: wealth and prosperity. Red Cat: protection from evil & illness (especially illness in children). Pink Cat (a more modern color): love, relationships and romance. Green Cat (also a modern color): educations/studies. Right Paw raised: invites money and good fortune (usually to businesses), and Left Paw raised: invites customers or people. Both Paws raised: invites protection of home or business. If one has a coin: wealth and material abundance. Holding a Bib and Bell, this may relate to protection, as well as wealth and material abundance. I’m sure there are more symbols. I’m sure if you ask the shop where you purchase, they’d be happy to tell you broader and deeper meanings for all of it.

I may be able to keep this one for a while if I hang it up away from the Moshi Monster.

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