Lucky cat meanings

What is the Symbolic Significance of Japanese Lucky Cats?

From ancient days, many stories have been told about maneki neko, AKA Japanese Lucky Cats or fortune cats. They are commonly used as mascots or talismans, bringing good luck to households, happiness and success to individuals, and wealth and prosperity to businesses. Generally speaking, the meanings of Japanese Lucky Cats are determined by their various colours, poses and garments.


Japanese lucky cat colours and meanings


Lucky Cat Colours and their Meanings

  • White lucky cats bring happiness
  • Black protects a household from illness
  • Green and blue bring academic success
  • Red protects against evil
  • Gold invites wealth and prosperity
  • Pink attracts love and romance


Lucky Cat Postures and their Meanings

In Japan, beckoning lucky cats are often placed in the windows of shops and restaurants to invite custom and prosperity. The symbolism of lucky cats for businesses is often determined by their gestures, particularly the position of their paws:

  • A lucky cat with a raised left paw brings custom
  • A lucky cat with the right paw raised brings wealth
  • Lucky cats with both paws up bring both wealth and custom

It is often believed that the higher the paw is, the greater the degree of luck.


Other Symbols to Look Out For

Many Japanese lucky cats wear a collar, bib or bell around the neck. This probably harks back to the Edo period, when wealthy people used to dress their pet cats in this way, and is commonly interpreted as a symbol of ostentation as well as protection.

Other maneki neko hold or wear additional good luck charms, the majority of which signify wealth and abundance. Someexamples include:

  • A koi carp
  • A coin, usually worth one ryo
  • A magic mallet, which attracts wealth when shaken
  • A gem or marble, which may also represent wisdom
  • A gourd, an ancient symbol of longevity and fertility

Many lucky cats are also inscribed with kanji characters to emphasise their various meanings.


Other Japanese Lucky Animals

The cat is not the only animal depicted in engimono (Japanese lucky charms). For example, owl figurines are also very popular. The Japanese word for owl, fukuro, means luck (fuku) and protection from hardship (kurou). Since the Meiji restoration (1868), owls have also taken on their Western significance relating to wisdom and education, giving this particular symbol a wealth of meaning.


Whether or not you believe in their various meanings, lucky cats and other Japanese animal charms make excellent gifts for friends and family members - especially those facing a challenge of some sort, such as an important exam, a new business venture or moving house.

If you're considering buying one, The Japanese Shop has an excellent selection to choose from. Browse our range of lucky cats here.