March 22, 2023

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Symbolism – Culture – Why does the Chinese cat wiggle in the shop window?

Why does the cat move? You often hear children asking their parents this question, and there are many different answers. Some say it welcomes visitors, others believe it brings good luck, but its story is actually a bit more magical than that. Before we delve into the myth, we need to clear up a common misconception.

The moving cat figure is not Chinese and does not have a wave.

Originally the Japanese mascot retained the name Maneki-nego, which translates more accurately as a clawed cat – a very fitting given its origin story. In Japan, the other person is not addressed to us as in Europe, but in a completely different (almost opposite) form. The call hand signal can be described in a somewhat simpler way: our palms and fingers face the floor, then we move our hands back and forth. In Europe it’s like sending someone, but in Japan it’s a call sign.

First, three different stories can be linked to the figure of the calling cat, each of which revives a different aspect of the myth.

The zamindar, the old woman and the kind shopkeeper

One of the oldest stories is a Holy page Understand the Japanese perception of cats from the 17th century to the Edo period in Japanese history. And the XIX century – goes back. According to the story, a local landowner daimyo was hunting in the forest when stormy weather arrived. They passed Kodoku-ji Temple, where the local abbot’s cat, Tama, sat at the entrance and beckoned to them.

The cat diverted them from their path and thus protected them from being struck by lightning there. As a token of his gratitude, the landowner appointed the cat as the patron saint of the church, and a sanctuary was also erected for it. The shrine can still be seen today at Kodoku-ji Temple, where thousands of maneki-nego statues can be offered by visitors to the patron saint, Tama.

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That’s another story Looking for magic Behind the legend, a story from 1852 is precisely defined. An old woman lived with her cat near Imato Shrine. He was reduced to extreme poverty, and when he could no longer afford food for himself, he sent his cat to find a more suitable home. That night, the old woman dreamed of a cat and told her that if she made idols in his image, it would bring her luck and prosperity.

The woman did so, made ceramic figurines of her favorite cat, and then went to the shrine to sell them to people. The small figures became so popular that they soon rescued the old woman from poverty and provided her with prosperity for the rest of her life. From the same year, a famous woodcut by the great graphic artist Hiroshige Utagawa shows lucky cat figurines sold in the market as an ancient representation of maneki-nego.

The third story is a very simple and realistic example As the story of humanity survived. Although the folk tale is known in many ways, its central character is a poor shopkeeper who cannot continue his business. Even with no money for food, one day he took in a starving cat from a heart attack.

After the cat got stronger, it sat in the window of the shop and beckoned customers, and since then they loved coming to the business and it prospered. This story spread so widely that thanks to this, today you can see a statue of the moving cat Maneki-nego at the entrance of many shops.

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Superstition and pop culture

In Japanese folklore, cats are creatures with special powers, both symbols of luck and vengeance. If a person takes a cat and treats it well, it will somehow thank you, bring prosperity and prosperity to the house. On the other hand, if they are mistreated, they can harm a person and curse the blood stream for up to seven generations.

Yoshiko Okuyama, Hilo University Professor A For National Geographic he said:

The importance of maneki-nego lies in its mythical power, according to which it brings good fortune to its keeper.

Western researchers have long dealt with the symbol of the calling cat. In a 1927 study of Asian animal figures, Catherine M. Paul approaches the following question:

This symbol is used as a talisman designed to attract business success and promote prosperity. It is located at the entrance of restaurants and shops, where it uses the adorable qualities of cats to beckon guests with a raised paw, inviting them to enter.

According to Professor Okuyama, the success and mythical nature of the image was further reinforced internationally. Studio Ghibli His 2002 animated film, The kingdom of cats, in which the protagonist is rewarded for rescuing a cat. Another strong pop culture look Pokemon In the cartoon series, Meowth, a talking cat and the third member of Team Rocket, is seen wearing a coin on his head, constantly blocking the protagonist. It’s one of Maneki-nego’s characteristic co-symbols – which he usually holds in front of him – but the cartoon character’s raised paw also evokes the character.

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The second wave of Chinese immigration to the United States played an important role in the spread of this figure, and the statue became very popular in the 80s and 90s, when many Eastern cultural elements found a wide breeding ground. Western world.

The calling cat – or maneki-nego – is now known around the world. Although its story has not yet spread widely, people always remember the image of a cute, lucky cat who gratefully welcomes visiting guests and helps the tired shopkeeper in his daily work and well-being.

(Cover image: Waving cats at Kotokuji Temple in Tokyo. Photo: John S. Lander / Getty Images)