Living in Asia, I come across cultural curiosities every day – emblems, motifs and traditions aplenty. Some are well rooted in practicality; The spiraling incense cones in Chinese temples burning for entire days without needing to be replaced leads me to wonder why other incense-burning religions didn’t think up something just as nifty. And then, there are others like the ‘Lucky Cat’ commonly found in little Asian shops and restaurants that at first glance seems an eccentric talisman.

Even if you aren’t a big fan of the feline species, it’s hard to dismiss this cute and unassuming figurine with its big black gumdrop eyes, chubby belly and beckoning paw. So what makes this animal deity so popular in East Asian cultures?
Lucky Cat or ‘Maneki Neko’ literally translates to ‘Invitation or Beckoning Cat' and is believed to invite prosperity and good fortune. There is no verified source of how or where the Maneki Neko first made its appearance but is commonly believed to have come into popularity during the Edo period (17th century) of Japan.
Several colorful folklores surround the mystical attributes of the Maneki Neko with a common thread running through them all - the tale of a wise cat that brings good fortune to its caretaker, or saves an unsuspecting master from danger. Popular among the folklores is the tale of a poor restaurant owner who takes in a stray hungry cat, and cares for it, after which the cat returns the kindness by beckoning customers into his master’s restaurant and helping him prosper. 

Photo Credit: Immanuel Giel

Here are a few fun facts that will give you some pause for thought when you see a Maneki Neko;

  • There are colorful versions of the figurine but the most ubiquitous one is the tricolor cat – white, red ears and collar and a gold bell and coin.
  • The left paw raised brings in customers, but a a raised right paw brings money and good fortune. 
  • It is believed the higher the paw, the more luck the Maneki Neko brings.
  • Three common adornments include a bib, a gold coin or a fish.

Not surprisingly, the Maneki Neko’s appeal goes beyond feline lovers and shops that have it as a lucky talisman. I stumbled upon entire blogs and anthropological studies dedicated to the world of Maneki Neko, and illustrated children’s books that retell the Japanese folklore. Some of my favorites include: Maneki Neko: The Tale of the Beckoning Cat and The Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale.

When Baby Hero's product team first pulled together a moodboard to design a uniquely East Asian inspired onesie, we were drawn to the enduring appeal of the Lucky Cat. Head on over to our shop to view our Lucky Cat series which comes with a generous dash of good luck and prosperity for the little Baby Hero who wears it!

An initial rendering of Baby Hero's Lucky Cat onesie.