Japan’s Maneki Neko figures

Today I want to introduce “Maneki neko figures” to you as they’re very popular in Japan.

I love cats and it breaks my heart that I haven’t had one ever since moving to Japan. Most apartments don’t allow pets and my current shoebox (= 1 room apartment! smilie) would be too small anyways.
Yet Japan is a great country for cat lovers, especially if you want to obtain cute cat items!
One of the most popular items is without a doubt the “Maneki Neko” (招き猫), also often refered to as “Lucky Cat“.

Japanese people believe that the Maneki Neko figures will bring good fortune to their owners.
While figures are the most common “Maneki Neko” item, there are also key chains, cellphone straps and many other items!
Some people mistakenly think that the “Lucky Cat” has its origin in China, but it’s in fact Japan.


The paws of a Maneki Neko figure:

One interesting feature of the maneki neko is the gesture!
Usually the “Lucky Cats” have one paw up in order to beckon good fortune.
There are different believes concerning what each hand will actually “do”.
I think most commonly it’s believed that the right paw up brings good luck and health while the left paw up is supposed to bring in customers.
Thus, you’ll find the latter version in front of shops or restaurants sometimes.

maneki neko figure

In the photo above you see one of my many Maneki Neko figures.
Here, the cat has both paws up. This is less common, but to me it seems that’s the ultimate fortune beckoning!

A lot of maneki neko figures are actually used as “piggy bank“!
Some figures also have a coin in their paw. It’s called “koban” (小判), not be confused with “kouban” (交番, police post).
Koban coins were used during the Edo Period. The one the “Maneki Neko” is holding is usually worth a lot!

Something I found really interesting is that “neko ni koban” (猫に小判, koban to cats) basically means the same as “pearls before swine“!
I always wanted to know the equivalent for it, so when I found out it has to do with cats in Japanese, I was really amused.
Hey, wow, you’re even learning some Japanese through me! *g*

Japanese people really seem to love cats!
There are even cat shrines and the famous “Cat Island“! Oh, and let’s not forget about the cat cafés!
And there’s also the all so famous “Hello Kitty“, of course.

Yet, I get the impression that real cats don’t have such a nice life in Japan. There are a LOT of stray cats and they look very “shabby”.
Although I don’t have any numbers, I’m pretty sure that most Japanese people have rather dogs than cats as a pet.
One of my Japanese co-workers even HATES cats! She can’t even look at a cute kitten photo!

What’s your impression of how cats are treated in Japan?
Do you like “Maneki Neko figures”? Do you own any?


    • Hello! ^-^
      Thank you very much for your comment! :hearts:
      Oh, I’m sad to hear about your allergy! :(
      AHHH! That’s where it was!! I remember that one and wasn’t sure anymore where I’ve seen it! So it was Nagoya! :hihi:

  • oh the cuteness! :teary: cats are just so adorable~ another thing that i liked about japan is their love for cats or rather cat culture ^__^ it was a bit shallow at first as i appreciated their love for hello kitty haha they have awesome cat stories. then they have this cat cafe thing now (one of the things im going to go to when i go to japan crossing my fingers for that!). Another thing i like about cats is that they are not so much high maintenance and unlike a dog who would always like your attention cute but at times noisy ><, a cat can do well and take care of themselves <3333

    i guess the same thing here in my country, i see a lot of stores / establishments with waiving maneki neko they say it attracts money (the claws i guess?) and drive away bad luck. its just weird that sometimes it's beside a buddah statue or a jade frog. probably our chinese influence. :happy:

    • Hehe.
      I’ve had cats almost my whole life! I like to use them instead of a hot water bottle in winter *jk*
      I like the fact that cats just do whatever they want. I miss having one! :(

      Actually it has to do with the difference in gesture meaning! When we “wave” somebody to come to us, it’s different from the Japanese gesture, so it looks like the cat is waving rather than beckoning good luck *g*

  • Wow, I’ve always wondered whether maneki-neko was a Japanese or Chinese phenomenon, shops in Singapore has a lot of them and many are sold in Chinatown, yet I’ve mainly thought they were Japanese. Otherwise, why would Arashi be promoting Japan with them? :D

    I always had the impression cats (even stray cats) had a very good life in Japan, compared to other countries, since many see them as lucky animals and even feed stray cats, and many look so healthy and has nice fur. Maybe I have gotten the wrong impression, or that it may change from place to place ;P Even so, I do feel people generally like dogs more, for example just look at the value difference (in money); most dogs you have to pay loads for while cats (as long as they’re not a special breed) are given away for free. My cat is a non-breed, but I like those the best :hearts: and I have even got insurance for him, which many people do not bother to (again, this is typically something you get for dogs…) I love both cats and dogs, but yeah I feel that generally there are differences in preference, but then it also comes to personal preferences, ne? ;P

    Anyway, very nice and informative entry :heart:

    • Actually I ran into the maneki neko that Arashi was using in their promotion video! XD However, I decided not to buy one. My collection is already too huge anyway! :hihi:

      I don’t know. Where I used to live in Germany, we didn’t have many stray cats, so I cannot really compare. Some of Japan’s stray cats have really bad fur and their tail is cut off or something :(

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :hearts:
      And don’t forget to let me know when you come to Japan!!!! :luvit:

  • I bought a maneki neko after watching Arashi’s tourism promotion video. ;P And I gave one as a present to a friend who came to visit Japan from Indonesia. I guess maneki neko is a popular luck item coz I always see it in restaurants. I didn’t notice that there’s a difference in meaning if the left or right paw is up until I read this post. Another informative insight I get from you. :thumbup:

    I sometimes see cats around our apartment (maybe my neighbor’s) and they’re fat! But they still run fast despite their weight.

    I hope you get to own a cat when you move to your new apartment.

    • Oh, you did? Was it the same they use in the video?

      I’d love to see photos of those fat(?!) cats! Maybe you can get a shot or two despite their speed?! :hihi:

      Unfortunately it’s already been confirmed that pets are not allowed in my new apartment as well. :(
      This is very common in Japan, unfortunately. *sigh*

      • Not really the same as the one they used in the video, just a small figure.

        I do have a picture of a fat agile cat but not my neighbor’s but a pet of a friend. I’ll tweet it to you. ;P

        Oh, that’s sad, you can’t raise a cat in your new apartment. :notamused:

  • Hello!!

    Can’t wait to see your post on cat cafes. :D

    I like both cats and dogs, but i prefer to keep a dog as a pet. Maybe for a security reason.

    & YAY for first time posting here. :P

    Take care!

  • Sure, there are tons of posts i have not read yet.
    And i found lots of links related to Japan. :D

    Oh, the stray fat cat that my family is keeping runs very fast too.
    He is super fat but very agile. ^^

  • OH, how i LOVE Maneki Neko! I have many, many back at my Home Base in Vancouver, BC, Canada! I brought only one with me on my Arctic adventure (one year in Yellowknife, NWT, Canada), and am now trying to figure out where i want to go next (after i get back to Vancouver in June)!

    And well.. come ON… Japan has GOT to be on the top of my list of places to live, simply due to the Maneki Neko buying opportunities alone! :-D

    Thanks for giving me a little MN light in my life today! And the one you’ve pictured… is a beauty! :-)

    • I don’t know. I don’t own a smartphone.
      However, here in Japan you’ll find the cutest and craziest iPhone cases … I wouldn’t be surprised if they had Maneki Neko themed ones as well! ^-^

  • Hello, I hope you can help me I’ve been searching all over the internet to figure this out. I know this might sound like a stupid question but I want to buy a maneki neko with its right paw raised, so is it my right or its right, because if it’s my right then it’s the cats left and this is where I got confused. I just want to do right by the cat lol so please let me know if you can. Thank you for your help

    • Hi Laura!
      Sure, I’d love to help you with all this confusion, but to be honest I’m not sure if I fully understood your question. When you say you want to buy one, you mean online?

      You want a Maneki Neko that has its right paw up, did I get that right?

      • When I say I want the right paw up I mean I want the right paw meaning of good luck and health, I want to make sure I get the accurate meaning, I hope that helps you in helping me choose the right one that’s why I’m unsure if it’s my right or the cats right, thanks again so much for all your help

        • I see. Now I get what you say.
          That’s simple. Imagine you are the cat and you raise your right paw! That’s what you want to buy when you want a cat that raises the right paw.
          I hope that helps! :)

          You know that a cat that raises both hands might even be better, right? ^-^

  • I have a maneki neko lighter. He (or she) is on a cushion with the left paw up. The left paw can be pulled down since it is the lighter switch. My boyfriend found it in a novelty store here in the us. So it is probably made in china…
    I love your figurines and blog. There is so much to learn and your blog makes it so enjoyable!

    • Wow, that sounds like an awesome lighter! ^___^
      I’d get one, but I don’t smoke and thus rarely need to use a lighter. *g*
      I have to keep my eyes open, though. If I find one, I might buy it as a present for friends! :thumbup:

      Thanks so much! ^_____^

  • Thanks for this informative posting..I always wonder why Neko (cat)? But the image you posted is much cuter than the one that I’ve seen in Japan. ^_^ Maybe we should get this to bring fortune and health..

    • Hello Susan.
      In Japan you can find them in various souvenir shops. Even some department stores have them.
      If you’re not in Japan, there are SEVERAL places where you could order them online. I’ve just done a simple Google search and they have lots of cute figures on Amazon and ebay, for example. ^___^

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