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I’ve noticed that many Japanese restaurants feature decorative porcelain cats, smiling with one paw raised straight up

Dear Urban Decoder: I’ve noticed that many Japanese restaurants feature decorative porcelain cats, smiling with one paw raised straight up, as if saluting. What’s the deal?

Once upon a time, according to Japanese legend, a feudal lord was caught in a rainstorm outside an impoverished temple. He noticed a cat standing in the doorway, its paw raised in a beckoning gesture. The curious lord followed the communicative kitty inside, and a moment later a huge lightning bolt zapped the exact spot where he had been standing. In gratitude, the lord lavished great riches upon the temple, and from then on, the Maneki Neko, or “beckoning cat,” became the magical mascot of good fortune. Porcelain likenesses of the felicitous felines are said to bring happiness and success (by beckoning customers, naturally) to small business operators. These days, a variety of styles are employed to draw different results: black Maneki Neko invite good health, while gold ones (which are quite rare) bring riches. Food for thought when sizing up your sushi options.

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