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" because of 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. According to a general rule of thumb, statue with the left paw raised is meant to be displayed in drinking establishments, while the one with the right paw for all other places of business; another interpretation is that right is for home and left for business.
Some maneki-neko feature battery- or solar-powered moving arms endlessly engaged in the beckoning gesture.
Antique examples of maneki-neko may be made of carved wood, stone and metal, handmade porcelain or cast iron.
It is commonly believed that Maneki-neko originated in Tokyo (then named Edo), while some insist it was Kyoto. Maneki-neko first appeared during the later part of the Edo period in Japan. The earliest records of Maneki-neko appear in the Bukō nenpyō's (a chronology of Edo) entry dated 1852. The Utagawa Hiroshige's ukiyo-e, "Joruri-machi Hanka no zu", painted also in 1852, depicts the Marushime-neko, a variation of Maneki-neko, being sold at Senso temple, Tokyo. In 1876, during the Meiji era, it was mentioned in a newspaper article, and there is evidence that kimono-clad maneki-neko were distributed at a shrine in Osaka during this time. A 1902 advertisement for maneki-neko indicates that by the turn of the century they were popular.
Beyond this the exact origins of maneki-neko are uncertain, though several folktales offer explanations.