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Cat Calls

Maneki Neko

As young Japanese are discovering that traditional Japanese items can be pretty cool, classic goodies seem to be popping up in trendy stores everywhere. The beckoning cat, an old main-stay, is especially calling hard!

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The Maneki Neko, usually made of porcelain or ceramic, is a charming sculpture of a cat raising one of its paws. They are often displayed at shop entrances in the believe that they attract customers (left paw up) or money (right paw up).

Maneki Neko
Standard Maneki Neko

When I first came to Japan they were increasingly seen as old-fashioned, and often the stores that displayed them were kind of dusty outfits. These days, though, the cats are everywhere. They have even found new roles as super cute keychains sought after by trendy young women, and air fresheners in restrooms.

Maneki Neko
A very happy Maneki Neko with lots of little friends. Notice that the cat on the right has raised both paws! A bit greedy, don’t you think?

There are lots of wonderful stories about the origins of the Maneki Neko. My own favorite tells about a temple cat beckoning a samurai lord who was sheltering from a storm under a tree. The man curiously approached. Seconds later, lightning struck the very tree where he had been standing.

Maneki Neko
Often, Maneki Neko carry a large coin (left), or they have a necklace with the characters for “shoufuku” (招福, good fortune)

The cat in this story belonged to the priest of Goutokuji temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya-ku. The lord was Ii Naotaka, who reigned over Hikone. Naturally, he was extremely grateful to the cat and offered large donations to the temple, as well as making it his family temple.

The priest was so grateful that after the cat died he had a statue made of the cat. Goutokuji temple does indeed exist and is crowded with countless Maneki Neko.

Maneki Neko
A huge Maneki Neko beckons for customers in Osaka’s Doguya-suji, a street packed with shops catering to restaurants

Although this dates the origin of the cat back to the Edo Period (1603-1868), the first statues apparently appeared during the late 19th century. And not in Tokyo, but in the merchant city of Osaka.

To lovers of cute and exotic things, it doesn’t really matter, though. They just see the Maneki Neko as a great addition to their interior, or a colorful fashion accessory.

Find you very own Maneki Neko in the JAPANESE STREETS shop.

Goutokuji Temple in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

scary story ? haha i love your reports ^^
waiting for new pics though o;

Jini
Aug 24, 2009 (4732 days ago)

Lol, I have some of these cats in my house xD
One on the tv and two on the shelves.

We have a golden colored one too 8D

mizakiwa
Sep 4, 2009 (4721 days ago)

The golden ones are amazing!

Kjeld Duits (author)
Sep 4, 2009 (4721 days ago)

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