The maneki-neko (Japanese: 招き猫?, literally ‘beckoning cat’) is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman), usually made of ceramic in modern times, which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. The figurine depicts a cat(traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed—often at the entrance—in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning.
The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, or fortune cat in English.
It is commonly believed the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck. Consequently, over the years maneki-neko’s paw has tended to appear ever higher. Some use the paw height as a crude method of gauging the relative age of a figure. Another common belief is that the higher the paw, the greater the distance good fortune will come from.
Some believe the maneki-neko originated in Osaka, while some insist it was Tokyo (then named Edo).1 Maneki-neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period in Japan.1 In 1876, during the Meiji era, it was mentioned in a newspaper article, and there is evidence that kimono-clad maneki-neko were distributed at a shrine in Osaka during this time. A 1902 advertisement for maneki-neko indicates that by the turn of the century they were popular.6
Beyond this, the exact origins of maneki-neko are uncertain, though several folktales offer explanations.