Long before pink bows and blue jumpers became appropriate attire for catsimage-6240078-10451141, the Maneki Neko sat at the entrance of homes and businesses bringing luck to their owners. To Westerners, the cat might appear as if it is waving, but in Japan, moving fingers with an outward-facing palm is actually a summoning motion. A cat beckoning with its left paw is said to bring customers, while a cat beckoning with its right paw brings wealth.  The lowered hand usually holds a gold coin or fish, protecting wealthf366r6Az42OVRTPPWXOQPWSQQPVimage-6240078-10731106

Although the first documented appearance of the Maneki Neko was in the 19th century, myths regarding the origins of the beckoning cat date back to the 17th century. According to the most popular legend, a cat named Tama lived a lowly life in a temple in Tokyo with a destitute priest. One day, a powerful and wealthy feudal lord found himself caught in a torrential storm near the temple.  He first sought refuge under a tree but then saw Tama, paw raised, beckoning him toward the temple.  He followed the cat and, moments later, the tree was struck by lightning and fell exactly where he had been standing. The lord was so grateful to Tama that he became the benefactor of the temple. Tama and the priest lived the remainder of their lives comfortably. When Tama died, the priest constructed a statue of his beloved cat to be placed over the grave—the very first Maneki Neko, the original Hello Kitty.

-Catherine Donovan

September 2012