From Cats to Koi: Good Luck Symbols in Samurai Culture

Going into battle isn’t easy, but for the Samurai of pre-modern Japan, it was not only a job but the core of their identity. The Samurai were the warriors of medieval Japan, who later became the highest-ranking caste of the Edo period (1603-1867). But do you know how they got so lucky?

The samurai used many symbols and talismans to both protect themselves in battle and to manifest luck and prosperity in their everyday lives.


Maneki Neko are one of Japan’s most common good luck symbols today, but they were also very popular with the Samurai. These lucky cats originated in the Edo Period, and have continued to grow in popularity since then. One of the most common origin stories of Maneki Neko says that a Samurai was sheltering from a storm under a tree when he saw a cat moving its paw as if it was calling him closer. When the Samurai stepped toward the cat, the tree was struck by lightning. The Samurai’s life was saved, and the symbol of the cat waving its paw has been considered lucky ever since.

Lladró creates many Maneki Neko pieces. They are made from matt porcelain and have finishes of both colourful enamel and glistening lustres. The pieces also feature detailed ornamentation with motifs inspired by traditional Japanese iconography.

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Traditionally flown on Boy’s Day, or Tango no Sekku, Koinobori are paper windsocks crafted in the shape of a carp. As koi can live in both clean and muddy water and often swim against strong currents, they are symbolic of courage and resilience, both of which are admirable traits for a Samurai warrior. Before it became the important cultural celebration it is today, Boy’s Day was originally a time for Samurai families to celebrate the strength and success of their male children. The families would hang Koinobori as a symbol of the qualities they hoped their children would have and would pray for their boys to grow up to be strong and courageous warriors.

Lladró’s Happy Boy’s Day piece is inspired by the lucky legend of Koinobori, and shows how intertwined the symbol has become with the festival of Tango no Sekku. With its colourful gloss finish, it is a beautiful tribute to the ancient Samurai celebration of strength and courage. We also have many other lucky koi pieces available.

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Another important Samurai luck symbol was the Iris flower. Like the Koinobori, it was most often used in Boy’s Day celebrations, but was also common among Samurai families who had recently given birth to a son. Irises were considered lucky by many Samurai because the flower’s Japanese name, Shobu, sounds the same as a word from the Samurai code, which means ‘to value high virtues’. This is why the flower was used for Boy’s Day, when the families would wish for their sons to be virtuous, strong, and successful.

Lladró’s limited edition Iris Centerpiece is a striking pick for any tabletop. With its bold blue gloss finish and delicate flowers, this piece is the perfect choice for home decoration.

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