In Japan, models waving with the right paw are traditionally supposed to bring money and luck and those waving with the left paw are supposed to bring people or customers.
What color?The original model is the tricolor one
(white with spots) who represents the Japanese bobtail in its most common color.
There are also other versions such as the black Maneki Neko whose function is to repel evil spirits and bad luck and the gold one which suppose to bring wealth to its owner.
Traditional models usually wear a necklace with a bell and a koban (a gold coin from Edo period). The inscription on the coin means ten million ryo (another currency of the same period).
There are many legends describing the origin of those statues. According to some sources they might come from the Osaka region, while others say they come from Edo (old Tokyo). Today many of the ceramic models are made in Seto and Tokoname.
The most famous story describes how an old woman with no money and out of desperation was forced to sell her cat. Shortly after, one night, she had a dream in which her former companion appeared and asked her to make a statue of him. Troubled by this experience she followed the advice and made a representation of her cat in clay. Soon after, someone came by and offered to buy her statue. She then made a few other ones and again it was an immediate success. She kept doing and it worked so well that she quickly became very rich.
Another story describes how an emperor avoided a trap set by his opponents thanks to a cat beckoning with his paw. Attracted by the amazing attitude of the animal, he went away from his original road and was saved from death. This story is one that is presented as an explanation for the original gesture of these lucky charms.
The statues are first shaped using molds and then dried for a week or more depending on the conditions (temperature, humidity...) and the size of the objects.
The drying process is natural.
They are then placed in a large oven in which the ceramic will harden and get its final finish. Usually the oven starts only when it is full.
The Maneki Neko are then polished and hand-painted.
Golden models go through a second baking step which stabilizes the color. Because of this second cooking process they are slightly smaller than the other ones.