Now, reading up on the history of the waving cat as a symbol, you find all kinds of stories. Mostly localized versions based on the same common theme. LuckyMojo features some really nice & detailed background info about the history of the waving/beckoning cat, this one from Japan:
As explained by Patricia Dale-Green in “The Cult of the Cat” (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1963), the Beckoning Cat is associated with an ancient cat-shrine on the grounds of a temple known as Gotoku-ji near Tokyo. She writes:
“This temple was originally a very poor one, no more than a thatched hut run by poverty-stricken and half-starved monks. The master-priest had a cat of which he was fond, and shared with it such little food as he had. One day the cat squatted by the roadside and, when half a dozen Samurai appeared on splendid horses, it looked up at them and raised one of its paws to its ear, as if it were beckoning to them. The noble cavaliers pulled up and, as the cat continued to beckon, they followed it into the temple. Torrential rain forced them to stay for a while, so the priest gave them tea and expounded Buddhist doctrine. After this one of the Samurai — Lord Li — regularly visited the old priest to receive religious instruction from him. Eventually Li endowed the temple with a large estate and it became the property of his family. Visitors who pass under the temple’s gateways, walk through its broad avenues of towering trees and enjoy the beautifully laid-out gardens, discover, near the cemetery of the Li family, the little shrine of the beckoning cat — which, it is said, still draws pilgrims from all parts of Tokyo.”
Because the Beckoning Cat had lured a wealthy patron to the poor temple, images of this cat soon became talismanic emblems and were particularly favored by shopkeepers. According to Dale-Green,
“At the entrances to their shops and restaurants, the Japanese place clay, papier-mache, or wooden figures of the seated cat with one paw raised to the side of its face. Such cats are believed to promote prosperity, their beckoning paws inviting passers-by to come in and do business.”‘
Today one can purchase Beckoning Cats made of porcelain, papier-mache, or clay in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most are calicos, like the orignal temple-cat, but occasionally black ones are found. Some are realistic, others are conventionally “cute.” Some are left-handed and some right-handed. Some simply wave a paw, others both wave a paw and hold a gold coin to their chests. Some are statuettes, others are piggy-banks. There are even little spring-mounted cats made to be glued to the dashboard of your car, where every bump in the road will set them to waving their beckoning paw.
Read the whole story here.