Beckoning cats at San Francisco Int’l Airport

A new exhibition from the SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport features a wide variety of maneki neko – those beckoning cat figurines we see today in the windows of Japanese and Chinese restaurants, inviting customers to step inside.

From the exhibition, we learn that the tradition of making beckoning cat figures dates back to the late Edo period (1615-1868) and through the years these auspicious objects have been made in ceramic, plaster, copper, bronze, wood, stone and iron.

In many cases, you’ll see the cat holding up its left paw in an effort to bring luck and good fortune to a business. Sometimes the right paw is raised – which is meant to invite good fortune, health and happiness into a home.

The colors of the beckoning cats also have meaning: white represents happiness and satisfaction; black symbolizes safety and is a way to drive away evil; and gold symbolizes money and fortune. The bibs on many maneki neko also hold meaning and are often painted with coins and other traditional symbols of luck and fortune.


Maneki Neko: Japan’s Beckoning Cats is located post-security in Terminal 2, on the Departures Level of San Francisco International Airport through August 26, 2018. All the maneki neko are from the collection of the Mingei International Museum of San Diego. And all the photos here are courtesy of the SFO Museum.

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