Meet Maneki Neko! Tasteful, isn’t he? All that gold! All that glitter! AND his arm waves up and down!
You’ve probably seen something like this before: although he hails from Japan, he has become known to the West as a lucky charm for shopkeepers and the perspicacious amongst you will have spotted him in shop windows all over the place. It has to be said that Mrs. Shopkeeper actually knew nothing about him until he cropped up on CSI a few weeks ago (incidentally proving the value of trash TV once and for all).
There is a code amongst these ceramic moggies: gold ones invite prosperity, white ones happiness and black ones bring health. A cat waving with its left paw is beckoning customers into a shop, and the one with its right paw raised is meant to secure general prosperity. So now you know. There are many legends concerning the origins of Maneki Neko: the most likely sounding one involves a samurai and a temple. But we rather like this version, written by Carol Douglas, which we have reproduced in full below:
A long time ago in Japan there lived an old shopkeeper. His shop was small but had items that were of good quality and reasonably priced. But people preferred to shop at the bigger, flashier stores.
Soon the old merchant became very poor because people did not buy his goods.
One day as he was sweeping the floor, he opened the door to sweep out some dust, and a white cat strolled into his shop. Though the cat held her tail high as she explored the shop, the shopkeeper could see that she was thin and hungry.
“Would you like something to eat?” he said gently stroking the cat’s silky ears.
The white cat purred as she nudged her head into his hand and looked into his kind eyes.
The old man scooped his last bowl of rice into a bowl.
He placed the bowl in front of the cat and said, “I have lived a long life, but you are young. Please eat my last bowl of rice.”
That night, the shopkeeper went upstairs to bed hungry.
The next morning when the shopkeeper went downstairs into his shop and lifted the window shades he saw many people waiting to come inside to buy his goods. He unlocked the door and the people streamed inside. Soon he was selling more in an hour than he had in a month!
He was astonished and said to the customers, “Why are you coming into my shop today? People have not come in here for a very long time!”
One of the people pointed to the window and said to the shopkeeper, “We saw the white cat in your window. She lifts her paw up as a way to ask people in here. Every person comes in because of the cat.”
And sure enough the white cat was sitting in the window beckoning each and every customer with her paw to come into the shop. The shopkeeper was never poor again thanks to the lucky white cat.
Today in Japan you can see a statue of a white cat in many windows of homes and businesses holding up her paw to welcome friends and customers. Because of the kindness the shopkeeper showed to the hungry cat, it is thought that this cat called, the “Maneki Neko” brings happiness and good fortune to everyone.
So far Master Shopcat is less than impressed by his shiny new friend. Hisses have been heard. But we’ll give it time….