A Fortune Kitty, A Cat That You Should Express More Respect For!
English, Japanese Culture Asakusa, Buddhism, Cool Japan, Dr. Desmond Morris, Fushimi ningyo, Imadoyaki ningyo, inari, japanese, japanese art, Japanese culture, Japanese history, Japanese proverbs, Japanese tradition, Kitty, Senso-ji, shrines, Ukiyo-e
More than a week have passed since I posted the last article about foxes. I needed time to study more about foxes in our culture and tradition. Yesterday, I posted the article “The Mystery of Inari – Shinto God or Buddhism Deity?” in our official website “2 Hours Drive From Tokyo“, where you can get the information about interesting spots outside Tokyo, our culture and tradition from our point of view in English. I’m very happy to read the articles about Japan which were written by non-Japanese people who like or dislike our country because they sometimes awake me to something that I have never noticed. Unfortunately, the information written in English is still very limited and it is difficult to find a proper information for foreigners who do not have enough knowledge of Japanese language. That’s why in December 2013 we started the site “2 Hours Drive From Tokyo” to help them to know more about Japan!!
Back on topic.
I’m now researching on the usage and people’s acceptance of animal figured characters in our society. I think the very origin of this phenomenon is a fox and after that a cat. I knew that during Meiji Restoration the government banned the manufacture of clay figures of foxes, which were very popular among ordinary people. After this new policy here came the turn for cats. Clay figures of cats became a popular item in place of those of foxes.
Now, in modern Japan, the most well-known Maneki-neko would be this; with an upright paw. I think many people already know about this gesture. We, Japanese, hold up the hand with the palm directed downwards and fold the fingers down and back up repeatedly or wave the whole hand vertically when we beckon. That’s why this cat figure is called “Maneki-neko”(Beckoning cat) and normally it is placed in shops for the prayer that many customers will come and use much money at the shop.
In fact, the gold medal which the cat is holding is not what it received at the Olympics but a gold coin called Koban (coin). To be precise, the value of the coin is 千万両, 10 milions Ryo. Ryo is a currency unit that was used in Edo period and its value would be 100,000 Yen. It is said that a man was able to live for one year with 3 Ryo in Edo period. So this cat is holding a trillion Yen (≒USD10 billion). Quite much…
But why cat was started to use as a lucky charm for service industries?
There are great many legends and folklore about the origin of Maneki-neko, among which there are also ones which we can see that they are BS without deep thinking. However, we may know that Maneki-neko played a role of Yuru-chara in the past through the phenomenon which many legends were created to claim that they were the origin.
Many people are telling the meaning of the details of Maneki-neko, for example, which side of the paw is up? or the colour of the body of a cat….
I personally think they have noooooo meaning at all but it’s also a fun to take a brief look at Maneki-neko.
Meanwhile, I would like to introduce you two possible origins of Maneki-neko which convinced me.
Ladies in a red-light district
Near Asakusa, there was/is a famous red-light district called Yoshiwara. The ladies used to wave their hands towards men who were walking outside in order to attract them to come. Moreover, these ladies were called ‘Neko (cat)’ and Yoshiwara is near to the town of Imado!!
According to the zoologist, Dr.Desmond Morris, a cat washes its face in order to calm down itself because it is feeling stressed with the change of atmospheric pressure when it rains.
The meaning of Maneki-neko from this point of view, would it be a rain-making ritual? Actually, some customers will come into the shop when it starts raining to get shelter from the rain. But it sounds too indirect and a bit pessimistic and I don’t feel like accepting this idea. However, I found an another hypothesis which drew me to conviction.
As we learned, a cat can feel the subtlest of changes in its environment. When a human that it does not recognize enters its home, it will become stressed to the point that it will begin washing its own face to calm itself!! Customers are surely the ones who a shop owner welcomes, but for a cat, they are just unpleasant. A fortune kitty looks happy but it is sacrificing itself for a loving owner. Higher respect should be required for a poor fortune kitty!!!
More Respects for Maneki-neko
I think you can show your higher respects for Maneki-neko obtaining real Maneki-neko instead of cheep ones made with plastic which are sold in souvenir shops.
Here I would like to introduce three traditional local clay-dolls or clay-figures manufactures. With the modernization of the country and industrial revolution traditional handmade crafts is becoming “endangered species” and unfortunately some are already extinct. I think that we have to protect not only endangered animals but also endangered human traditions. The interests of people towards them can stop this pitiable situations. Of course the prices would be higher but they are reasonable if you think about the process of the production, the techniques of craftsmen, and the stories behind!
I found a document in which it is written that one Maneki-neko was found in a grave in Miayazaki prefecture. There were many types of clay dolls and clay figures buried in the grave of a man who passed away in 1862, among which there found one Maneki-neko. In Miyazaki there is a tuchi-ningyo manufacturing called ‘Sadowara-tsuchi-ningyo’. So this can be the one of oldest Maneki-neko.
Address: 1396-10 Sadowara-cho, Kamitajima, Miyazaki-shi, Miyazaki-ken
The origin of Sadowara ningyo is said to go back to Keichō period (1596–1615) and from the beginning of Meiji period to Taisho period Ningyo (dols) making prospered with 14 manufacturers. However, there are only two remained now. One of them is Masuya, a shop which is run by Sakamoto family for five generations with the inherited tradition of ningyo making.
Photo from Guru-Net Miyzaki
Fushimi ningyo is the oldest folk toys which prospered in the late Edo period. There said to be more than 90 types of clay dolls and clay figures all over in Japan but no single clay doll is not originated from Fushimi-ningyo.
In late Edo period there were more thank 60 potteries along Fushimi main street but now there is only one remaied, Tanka, which was established around 1750.
They have over 2000 of different molds and almost all of them are the dolls and characters which represent the folklores and historical daily lives.
About 5 minutes walk from Inari Station of JR Nara line or Fushimi Inari station of Keihan line on the Honmachi street.
The city of Edo was characterized by frequent great fires. So frequent that there is a saying 『喧嘩と火事は江戸の華』(Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.). One of the reasons of frequent fires would be too many small houses were clustered close together. Especially the houses of Edo period were made with wood and paper which can easily catch a fire. In early 18th century, for fire prevention, Shogun ordered the Edo citizens to roof with Kawara tiles when they build new houses.
With this policy the demands of Kawara tiles were increased in Edo city and craftsman of Kawara making were called from Kyoto. They settled in Imado town near Asakusa in order to manufacture earthen pottery using the clay of Sumida River. Of course the main production was Kawara tiles but also they started to create tableware for everyday use (Imado-yaki) and Imado-yaki dolls and figures.
Since the craftsmen who started Imado-yaki were from Kyoto, it can be easily imagined that the origin of Imado-yaki dolls was Fushimi-ningyo. Some people said that Imad-yaki was a copy of Fushimi-yaki at first. However, Imado-yaki dolls were developed in Edo style and they became very popular in Edo city and at the end of Edo period the demands and the production reached their peak.
With modernization of Japan in Meiji period, Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and the bombing during World War II, the numbers of manufactures was decreased incredibly and now there is only one remained in Imado area.
There is a Imado shrine which you can visit where you can find many kinds of Maneki-neko of Imado-ningyo and in annual events such as Hagoita-ichi held in Sensoji-temple in Asakusa you will have a chance to achieve some!
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