First I have a list of TED talks for cat lovers, which you can find here or simply clicking on the screenshot below. I can’t say that I’ve watched any of them because of my aversion to TED talks, but some of them may actually be good.
Do you have a Lucky Cat icon—you know, the cat with one paw raised in the air? I do: here it is in my office:
You often see these in Asian restaurants and stores. The cat is actually known in Japanese as a “maneki-neko,” which simply means “beckoning cat.” Wikipedia has quite a long entry on the maneki-nekos, which includes this essential information:
The figurine depicts a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw, and is usually displayed in—often at the entrance of—shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and other businesses. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning. The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat, beckoning cat, or fortune cat in English.
Maneki-neko comes in different colors, styles and degrees of ornateness. Common colors are white, black, gold and sometimes red. In addition to ceramic figurines, maneki-neko can be found as keychains, piggy banks, air fresheners, house-plant pots, and miscellaneous ornaments, as well as large statues. It is also sometimes called the “Chinese lucky cat” due to its popularity among Chinese merchants.
. . . To some Westerners (Italians and Spaniards are notable exceptions) it may seem as if the maneki-neko is waving rather than beckoning. This is due to the difference in gestures and body language recognized by some Westerners and the Japanese. The Japanese beckoning gesture is made by holding up the hand, palm down, and repeatedly folding the fingers down and back, thus the cat’s appearance. Some maneki-neko made specifically for some Western markets will have the cat’s paw facing upwards, in a beckoning gesture that is more familiar to most Westerners.
Maneki-neko can be found with either the right or left paw raised (and sometimes both). The significance of the right and left raised paw differs with time and place. A common belief is that the raised left paw brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth, although some believe the opposite, or that one paw is for luck and the other for wealth. Another interpretation says that a raised left paw attracts money, while a raised right paw protects it. Still others say that a left paw raised is best for drinking establishments, the right paw for other stores (those who hold their liquor well are called “left-handed” (hidari-kiki) in Japanese). Yet another interpretation is that right is for home and left for business.
It is commonly believed the higher the raised paw, the greater the luck. Consequently, over the years maneki-neko‘s paw has tended to appear ever higher. Some use the paw height as a crude method of gauging the relative age of a figure. Another common belief is that the higher the paw, the greater the distance good fortune will come from.
Apparently the maneki-neko first appeared in the mid-eighteenth century, at the end of the Edo Period. The first record is in 1852, and here’s one, in a painting of that date by Hiroshige:
When was the first cat show? I can’t easily find the answer, but in England it was in 1871, as described in this article in Atlas Obscura. Although I don’t go to many cat shows, I do occasionally, as they’re fun. Lots of cat owners are friendly and glad to talk about their show cats, and there are also Crazy Cat People running around in cat-themed clothes. (Yes, I know I have a Hili shirt!) And if you have a cat you can get all kinds of freebies.
The organizer of the first show, Harrison Weir, did so to refurbish their image. As the article describes (my emphasis):
Before Weir united cats and aristocrats, kitties were considered street animals. Cats provided a useful service—rodent extermination—but were not generally valued for their cuteness, cuddliness, or companionship. Charles Darwin lamented their “nocturnal rambling habits” in 1859’s On the Origin of the Species, while Windsor Magazine noted that the cat was merely a “necessary household appendage.” To snuggle with a cat would be to snuggle with your pest exterminator—it just wasn’t their function.
Weir, a lover of many creatures including poultry, pigeons, dogs, and rabbits, considered cats “possibly the most perfect, and certainly the most domestic” of animals. Weir was not always a cat enthusiast—in his 1889 book Our Cats and All About Them he confesses to having had “a bias” against them and says he took “some time coming to this belief.” But once convinced of cats’ merits, Weir became a feline evangelist.
Weir organized the first cat show in England at Crystal Palace, and the article goes on in an amusing vein:
On the train heading to the Crystal Palace for the big event, Weir happened to run into a friend, who enquired as to his well-being and the purpose of his journey. When Weir explained the cat show, his friend was astonished. “A show of cats!” he cried. “Why, I hate the things.” [JAC: Do not trust people who dislike cats. It is a moral failing.]
Weir took a deep breath. “I am sorry, very sorry, that you do not like cats,” he said, before spending several minutes explaining all the reasons he adored the animal. They can unlatch doors, or even knock with their paws for admittance! They catch rats and mice! They are full of sense!
According to Weir’s book, Our Cats and All About Them, this impassioned evangelism became a bit much: “’Stop,’ said my friend, ‘I see you do like cats, and I do not, so let the matter drop.’”
Here’s a photo of the Great Event, which apparently did a lot for making cats into beloved rather than despised animals:
The less-than-egalitarian nature of cat shows didn’t stop the animals from securing a more general affection. “[T]he cat is gradually creeping into the affections of mankind, even in this busy work-a-day world,” wrote Frances Simpson in 1903’sBook of the Cat. Simpson singled out Weir as a difference-maker, noting that “great strides” had been made in the realm of cat fancying since that day in 1871 when Weir “was laughed at by his incredulous and astonished railway companion.”
Lady’s Realm magazine expressed a similar opinion in 1900, saying Weir had “done wonders for the amelioration of pussy.” In three decades, cats had gone from being chased in the streets to being welcomed onto the hearth. Whether they won a prize at some snooty show was beside the point—as Lady’s Realm said, “how great has been the change in the conditions of life of the harmless, necessary cat!”
h/t: Grania, Stephen