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Maneki Neko Pooh

One of my birthday gifts from my kids (with much gracious help from their mom) was a maneki neko (beckoning cat) Pooh bear. One can't help but love the intersection of Japanese and Western pop culture.

(It can't be seen from this angle, but Pooh is wearing a maneki neko costume with the face mask pulled back on his head.)

From an article on the topic:

The maneki neko (MAH-nay-kee NAY-ko), or beckoning cat, is an ancient Japanese good luck charm. Though its roots are buried as far back as the Edo era (1603 - 1868), the maneki neko still exists today in pop culture and business...

A maneki neko just isn't a maneki neko if at least one paw isn't raised. A raised left paw invites people or customers while a raised right paw invites money or good luck. The height of the paw is also significant -- the higher the paw, the more luck or people it invites..

According to ancient legend, there was once a poor priest who owned a temple, but could no longer afford to keep it open. The owner let his pet cat, Tama, go in search of a better home, since her current one was to be abandoned. (Other versions of this legend state that the priest kept Tama despite his poverty, but asked the cat to help him.) One day, the lord of the Hikone district, Naotaka Ii, passed by the temple during a fierce rainstorm. Taking shelter under a nearby tree, he spotted a cat, her left paw raised in a beckoning gesture. Curious about the cat, he followed Tama to the entrance of the temple. At that moment, lightning struck the tree, causing it to fall where the man had previously been standing. Grateful to Tama for saving his life, Naotaka Ii became friends with the priest and appointed it the Ii family temple, renaming it Goutokuji. Supported by the Ii clan, Goutokuji became very properous temple. Clay statues which would become the maneki neko were crafted in honor and admiration of Tama. She was buried in a special cemetary after she died. The statues can be seen at the Goutokuji temple in Tokyo to this day.

So the next time you're in a Japanese restaurant, you'll know the meaning of that cat.

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