Sunday, 17 April 2011

Origins of Japanese Lucky Cat by JoaniesGifts

Japanese Lucky Cat / Maneki Neko
The Japanese Lucky Cat is one of my favourite items and has become very popular with my customers. Many people have been wondering where they originated and what's so special about them, so I thought i'd share some of the insights and history into our favourite cat which I hope you enjoy.


The Lucky Cat isn't just a recent craze as they were created during the Edo period (1603-1867) in Japan, and began getting popular at the beginning of 20th century!
The Lucky Cat has also been linked to several Japanese Emperors as well as to Oda Nobunaga and samurai Ii Naotaka.  It is said that one day the luminary passed by a cat, which seemed to wave to him. Taking the cat's motion as a sign, the nobleman paused and went over to it.  Diverted from his journey, he soon realised that he had avoided a trap that had been laid for him just up ahead and since that time, cats have been considered wise and lucky spirits protecting people from dangers.  Many Japanese shrines and homes include the figurine of a cat with one paw upraised as if waving—hence the origin of Maneki Neko, often referred to as Kami Neko in reference to the cat's kami or spirit.
You may also have noticed the similarities between the Maneki Neko's gesture and that of a cat washing its face.  There is a Japanese belief that a cat washing its face means a visitor will soon arrive.  This belief may in turn be related to an even older Chinese Proverb that states that if a cat washes its face, it will soon rain.  Thus a belief arose that a figure of a cat washing its face would also bring in customers and so it is now customary to see them in many shops, restaurants, and other Chinese and Japanese businesses. Next time you visit China Town - see how many you can see! You'll probably see something like the one on the right - gold also being a sign of wealth.

Legends and stories

Maneki Neko is the subject of a number of legends. Here are three of the most popular, explaining the cat's origins:

1.  The Gotokuji Temple Cat

This is perhaps the most popular. This story, which is thought to date back to the beginning of the Edo Period (1603 - 1867), tells of a local priest, who looked after the Gotoku-ji Temple in Tokyo and kept a cat. Despite his poverty, the priest often shared his limited food with his cat. One day, during a storm a samurai sheltering under a tree at the temple saw the priest's cat, apparently beckoning to him to come into the temple for shelter. Just as he approached the cat, a bolt of lightning hit the tree that he had been sheltering under, causing it to crash to the ground where he had previously been standing. Grateful to the cat that had saved his life, the wealthy samurai rewarded the temple with funding for its upkeep and adopted it as his family place of worship. When the cat died, it was honoured by being buried in a special cemetery and a statue was made in his likeness, thus initiating the image of the lucky cat we know today.

2.  The Courtesan

A courtesan named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her. One night, the cat began tugging at her kimono. No matter what she did, the cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat bewitched, cut its head off. The cat's head then flew to the ceiling where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.

3.  The Old Woman

An old woman living in Imado (eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.

So I hope that explains a little bit about why JoaniesGifts are proud to be stocking such an array of historic Japanese Gifts.  
Hopefully they will being good luck to you too x

Monday, 21 February 2011

JoaniesGifts are fundraising for Shooting Star Children's Hospice

I've always been touched by this charity so have decided to donate a percentage of online sales to this great cause as well as some of my toys.  If you're also a supporter - why not make a donation too ?

The charity cares for over 500 terminally ill children, teenagers and their families living in much of London, Surrey and West Sussex.
 They provide practical, nursing and emotional support every step of the journey with families, in whichever way they're needed.  The care is free of charge which is why they need our support

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Top 10 Unusual Gifts

Top 10 Unusual Gifts?

My shop is built around unusual gifts and crafts and I wanted to share with you my top 10 best selling gifts that I could not have predicted in a million years.  This isn't a sales pitch as all I want to do is share some beautiful gift ideas that you might not have thought of.  

10.  East of India Keepsake Wooden Box.

Popular in the 60s and making a huge return are keepsake boxes (aka treasure boxes).  My East of India range have a number of  these very simple, handmade keepsake boxes and have been very popular in the run up to Christmas.  I have one of these myself and store the little bits and pieces that I use for my scrapbooks.

9.  Vietnamese Lacquerware Candle Holders and Homeware

It was always a gamble stocking Vietnamese lacquerware from my home country of Vietnam, as it tends to be more popular in the USA and Asia.  But surprisingly the lacquerware range has been very popular.  I think people are just tired of the same old stock from larger retailers, that's simply the same no matter which branch you wander in to.  My lacquerware is imported from Vietnam - so you are getting something truly authentic and original and I believe this is why they are selling.

 8.  Japanese Hello Kitty

I thought these would be my post popular gift but I was wrong as opinions in the UK are very divided as like Marmite, you either love or hate them...  What I have found is the Hello Kitty Accessories are selling more than Hello Kitty herself.

7.  Feng Shui Lucky Cats

 As I mentioned in a previous post - seeing one of these cool cats was what really inspired me to build an online shop and it's nice to see other people appreciating them too.  A lot of Asian cultures believe these cats to be lucky and I think I am evidence that there's some truth in it.  If you don't believe it they are still a fun ornament for any living room or kitchen.

6.  East of India Handmade Noah's Ark

One of the more expensive items that I'm selling but when you open it's box - you really get a "wow" factor.  The hand carved effect of the ark is simple and brings anyone back to their childhood.  Having said that, many of the people buying my arks are so they can be displayed in a new baby's room.

5.  Laugh Often, Love Much, Live Well Mug and Wooden Box

Another beautiful East of India Gift.  I chose this mug set to sell simply because of the beautiful words.  I think anyone drinking their morning coffee will feel better when they read the words "laugh often, love much, live well" - well maybe except on a Monday.  The little wooden box that that the mug comes in is lovely too and can be used for a little keepsake box. 

4.  Voodoo Dolls.

I get a lot of questions about these little guys and sadly I can't admit to crafting them myself.  They have that "handmade" look to them and are really quite quirky and fun with your keys.  Strangely, the larger versions of my Voodoo Dolls are outselling my keyrings which is a surprise.

3.  Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

I have been a huge fan of these dolls for years so it was really easy for me to decide to sell them in my store.  You see quite a few fakes on eBay and Amazon and some of them are quite good..  But these are genuine Kokeshi - made in Japan!   What does this mean?  It means that each doll is handmade, has striking colours and attention to detail that will stand the test of time (unlike the fakes).  These are a great gift for such a wide range of occasions that I'm not surprised it's my number 3 most popular item.

2.  Handmade Jewellery by JoaniesGifts

These are made by me and it really was a gamble putting them on the shop.  It's a hobby of mine and I've always been embarrassed to show people in case they didn't like them - but my friends and family have asked me to include them online and I have!  I think the reason I'm selling so many of these items is the fact that they're different, they're unique and they're affordable.  I use the best materials and because I make them myself - I can also sell very cheaply - even when I'm using Swarovski crystals and Sterling Silver.
I'm not selling a huge range yet but I'm busy making LOTS more...x

1.  Meet the Ugly Dolls and Mrs Kasoogi

I need to get this off my chest - I don't think they're ugly!!  You have to really hold them in your hands to see what I mean but trust me - there's just something about them and I've sold so many of these at craft fairs and more recently online that it's really surprised me.    Initially I bought quite low numbers but they sold out so quickly that I had to order another larger batch (although that's getting low again)..  The Ugly Dolls are my number1 seller and they are Japanese through and through !! 

So could you have predicted that?   I always find it interesting how people's buying habits always surprise you, but that's what keeps selling gifts so interesting and rewarding.

If you have any ideas for quirky or oriental gifts that you'd like to see on the store - please drop me a line or feel free to comment.

Oh and please swing by my Facebook Community for Joanies Gifts - be great to see you there!

Joanie x

Monday, 29 November 2010

First Charity Craft Fair - Really Fun!!

On Saturday I attended my first charity craft fair in Reading and must admit to being a little nervous.  The main point for me was to promote the website by handing out business cards and leaflets but I very quickly got caught up in the whole experience.   The proceeds from the fair were going to charity and as it was a local fair, many of the buyers were young children and families.

Initially it was a bit scary as I looked at the other sellers, as they seemed far more prepared than me.  Many people seemed to have proper stands that they'd bought whereas my stands were handmade..

Initially it was slow until i dropped the price of the Voodoo Dolls keyrings by a pound.   The affect this had was for the kids to grab their parents and pull them over to my stand :-)   Once they were there, the parents usually ended up buying something as well which was fantastic and was pleased my handmade jewellery was selling so well !

The scene looked a bit like this (ok maybe not quite but i'd forgotten my camera :-)   )...

I'm feeling happier about these sorts of fairs now and will be looking out for stands to hold my items.  If anybody knows of where i can get such stands cheaply and also how to make a professional cardboard logo for the stand - do get in touch and let me know and share any tips you might have for successful stands at these sorts of events..

Thanks for reading x

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Vietnamese Girl's Dream Versus Google

Dreams Versus Google
Can dreams alone get you to no.1 in Google?    

How the Dream Started...

I was born in a little town called Quang Binh in Vietnam and raised by my family here in the UK.
As in many Oriental cultures, I was "encouraged" to become a doctor, pharmacist or Lawyer by my family, as they wanted me to have the life they didn't.  I chose law as medicine didn’t appeal (too squeamish) so one degree and several years later, I find myself in a large international company - another paralegal working her fingers to the bone.

I'd always dreamed of opening a little Oriental Gift Shop of my own in the lanes of Brighton, but money has always been tight and I wanted to make sure that I could afford for the business to fail - of course that day never came so I still had no shop.

It hit me recently that spiritually I needed to do something with my life that gave it more meaning than the daily grind of office culture- and it was seeing this image in a Yo Sushi restaurant in London that finally gave me a wake up call.

My Lucky Cat inspired from a trip to Yo Sushi - Where dreams are born...  

The dream was this.  I had many contacts in Vietnam and other parts of the Orient so why not use those contacts to acquire Vietnamese and Japanese gifts, so I could setup my own oriental shop?   

My husband and i have been very busy building this online shop using a number of different techniques and it's hard but very rewarding work.  It's taking a lot of time doing everything ourselves but it's incredible how much you can learn..

JoaniesGifts  Facebook Page  @JoaniesGifts