Maneki Neko cats, also known as lucky cats, are a popular charm in Japanese culture. It is a talisman that is believed to attract good luck and fortune for its owners. Thus, it is very common to find them on display in stores, restaurants, and other businesses. “Maneki Neko” in Japanese means “beckoning cat”. The cat has one paw raised as if it's waving in good fortune for its owners. No one is quite sure when the first lucky cat came into being, but it is widely agreed to have first appeared during the Edo period of Japan.
There are a couple of legends regarding the origins of the Maneki Neko. The most popular story begins with a wealthy man who saw a cat while taking shelter from a rainstorm under a tree next to a temple. The cat beckoned him into the temple and he followed. Right after, lightning struck the tree he had been standing under, the cat had saved his life. Because of this, the man was so grateful he became the benefactor of the temple. When he passed away a statue of the cat was made in his honor.
Not all Maneki Neko are the same, and their differences are very important. For example, whether the right or left paw is raised means two different things. If the left paw is raised it is supposed to attract customers. If the right paw is raised then it is supposed to invite good fortune and money. Similarly the clothing of the cat is significant. While all of the cats are finely dressed, usually adorned with a bib, collar and bell some figurines are shown holding items in their paws which signify different things. If the cat is holding a koban worth one ryo it is considered to be very fortunate. If it is holding the magic money mallet it is supposed to attract great wealth. If it is holding a fish (most likely a carp) the fish is symbolic of abundance and good fortune. And if the cat is holding a marble or gem it is supposed to represent wisdom even going as far to say the gem represents a crystal ball.
Additionally, the color of the cat is significant as well. The traditional coloring is white with black spots (calico) and is considered to be the luckiest. White symbolizes happiness, purity, and positivity. Gold symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Black offers protection and works to ward off evil spirits. Red and pink can help you find love and success in relationships. And green is used to bring about good health and wellness, in addition to helping bring you academic success.