Japan’s Legendary Maneki Neko (Lucky Cat)


Aikido, while practiced in well over 110 countries, is deeply rooted in Japan.  We are fortunate to have highly qualified instructors from many nationalities and backgrounds. But it’s safe to say that nearly everything we do in Aikido is Japanese by nature.  Except of course, most of us gaijin (non-Japanese).  So learning about Japanese social customs and culture is probably a good thing for us to undertake.

I thought we might delve into learning about that little cat statue found just about everywhere in Japan and in many Japanese establishments outside of the country.

images-2You have no doubt seen an image of a cute little cat doll with its paw raised at a Japanese business or home. This cat doll is called Maneki Neko (beckoning or welcoming cat) and it is popular in Japan as a lucky charm that invites happiness. It is said that the one with its right paw raised invites money and the one with its left paw raised inimages-1vites people.




Since ancient times, cats had been kept at homes in Japan to rid them of rats that gave damage to crops. Around the 18th century “Maneki Neko,” a cat doll that brings good luck had come onto the scene. In today’s Japan, these dolls are frequently found sitting near the entrance of shops.  Store 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 (Tokyo) 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 of a sudden and a severe thunderstorm arrived. Not getting wet, the lord was so glad that he made a donation to re-build the poverty-stricken temple. And he designated this temple as his family temple. This temple is Gotokuj Temple which still exists in Tokyo. When the cat died, Shobyodo temple (beckoning cat temple) was built on thie temple’s grounds 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.


In Hikone where the castle of the feudal lord is, Hiko-nyan has born as the mascot for the 400th anniversary of Hikonejo Castle. It is said that Hiko-nyan is modeled after the Gotokuji Temple’s cat.

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.

So next time you see that cute little cat, impress your companions with a story about our friendly Maneki Neko.images

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