Neko is the domestic cat (Felis catus). Cats are not indigenous to Asia, but originate in the Middle East and were imported to Japan from China.
Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings
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Motif Connotations & Symbolism
Neko are known for a dual symbolism. Along with kitsune, neko are represented in folk tales as having the power to possess humans. However, neko can also protect their owners from misfortune and danger.
The Chinese mao is a homonym for seventy, and is thus a symbol for longevity. Cats are able to maneuver in the dark, and thus symbolically ward off evil spirits as well as eliminate disease-causing rodents. Conversely, cats can also symbolize hardship and loss of wealth. When one loses money, their property falls to ruin, which attracts rats or mice. Thus, when a cat comes to a house it is not always considered a favorable sign.
Maneki neko (招き猫, lit. "invitation cat") is a tri-color or calico bobtail cat with paw raised in greeting is considered an auspicious symbol, representing good fortune and luck, especially for businesses. The classic origin story typically involves a poor restaurant, bar, or temple where the owner takes in a hungry, neglected cat. After being cared for and loved, the cat sits in front of the store beckoning to people passing by, attracting customers, and thus returning the kindness of the owner by bringing prosperity.
Beckoning cat statuettes may have originated during the Edo Period and were documented widely through the Meiji period. During the Meiji Restoration there was “a ploy to minimize the negative image of Japan among the largely Christian Western world.” Brothels that had once displayed lucky charms in the form of male sexual organs disappeared while the maneki neko figurine increased in popularity.
The color of the maneki neko has additional meanings:
Black tones - wards off evil or cure illness in children
White tones - brings prosperity and happiness
Gold tones - brings wealth
Common Motif Pairings
Identification & Style Variations
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Motif in Literature & Other Usage
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Relevant Threads / Discussions
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- ↑ Kurstin, Joseph. Netsuke:Story Carvings of Old Japan. Joseph Kurstin. 1994. p.64.
- Rebecca Steedley
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