Ohio’s Lucky Cat Museum features the iconic Maneki-Neko cats. And if you love cats, you must visit this museum.
Micha Robertson’s Ohio Luck Cat Museum houses more than 2,000 varieties of the iconic Maneki-Neko or “beckoning cat, a symbol you’ll often see in Asian restaurants as a symbol of luck and prosperity.
The Ohio Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati is the only museum of its kind in the United States. There are two similar museums, both in Japan.
- The Maneki Neko Art Museum in Okayama
- And the Maneki Neko Museum in Seto
You may wonder why it’s called the Cincinnati Lucky Cat Museum. It’s because the cat is said to be lucky and bring good fortune.
Address: Essex Studios, 2511 Essex Pl, Cincinnati, OH 45206
Phone: (513) 633-3923
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 3 – 6 pm.
During Essex Art Walks, held four times a year, the Museum is open 3-10 pm.
Currently, due to Covid-19, the Ohio Lucky Cat Museum is not accepting visitors. The space is too small to allow for any real social distancing. The Lucky Cat Museum will reopen once it is safe to do so. Reportedly, the museum is working on a virtual walk-through for visitors.
While many destinations are slowly opening, others still have mandatory stay-at-home orders, so let this newsletter and the content within serve as inspiration for future travel.
What’s at the Ohio Lucky Cat Museum
At the Ohio Lucky Cat Museum you will find display cases filled with statues, paintings, stuffed animals of iconic comic figures displayed as Maneki Nekos, and slot machines. Even Garfield has been transformed into a beckoning cat. Paws was particularly surprised to see a link to our Cat Fancy magazine article, 50 Places To Get Your Cat Fix.
Words really can’t describe what jammed packed into this small space at Ohio’s Lucky Cat Museum. Almost every inch of space is devoted to the Lucky Cat. And while it may be a small space, but it’s huge on variety. It’s almost impossible for words to describe the unbelievable endless collection of very Maneki-Nekos (beckoning cats) at the Lucky Cat Museum.
Paws had never heard of Maneki-Nekos until taking a trip to Hawaii about a decade ago. Fascinated by the beckoning cats at many of the shops, Paws wanted to bring one home as a souvenir. Finally, someone advised it was of Japanese origin, not Chinese, and a trip to a Japanese store netted three Maneki Nikos. of different shapes and sizes, coming back to the mainland.
Lucky Cats bring luck to owners
If you have visited a Japanese or Chinese restaurant and been greeted by a statue of a cat holding up or waving its paw, you have met the Maneki Neko, a lucky charm originating in Edo era Japan, said to bring prosperity to those displaying it.
These beckoning felines (maneki = to beckon, neko = cat) are often referred to as Lucky or Fortune Cats. They have become a pop culture icon around the world.
The Cincinatti Lucky Cat Museum has more info on these special cats on their About Maneki Neko page.
History of Ohio’s Lucky Cat Museum
More than a decade ago, museum owner and operator Micha Robertson began collecting Maneki Neko of all shapes, sizes, and designs. Eventually, she accumulated so many that she decided to open a tiny museum dedicated to the beckoning cat.
Robertson has always collected cat themed merchandise but began focusing on Maneki Neko a little over 12 years ago. At first they filled a shelf on a bookcase in her study. Then, they expanded onto their own bookcase, shelves, displays, etc until they claimed an entire wall to themselves.
In August of 2012, her friend and coworker Eva suggested sharing space at Cincinnati’s Essex Studios, a former clothing factory turned artist collective. Another friend, Jenn, joined in.
On the lucky cat museum’s website, she says the timing was perfect, as a family member temporarily moved in with us and we needed to make room.
In an interview on a local radio station WVXU in 2015, Robertson explained this cat with a raised paw can be interpreted in very different ways. Her collection shows how different that interpretation can be.
Each one is different. Even if they are similar, they are different.
Ohio’s Lucky Cat Museum in Essex Studios, Cincinnati
The Ohio Lucky Cat Museum is housed in the Essex Studios in Cincinnati. The Essex building began in the 1920’s as the Herschede Clock factory. In the 1950’s it became Hamilton Tailoring Company. You can still see snaps and pins ground into the flooring of the halls upstairs. With the 1990’s decline of America’s textile industry, the decision was made to convert the factory into artist spaces.
At the Essex, she could display hundreds of Maneki Neko. She was fortunate as the retail party supply store where she worked, was generous enough to sell her several large and small display cases they were no longer using at a very affordable cost.
The Ohio Lucky Cat Museum opened during the October 2012 Art Walk when many of the studios open their doors and outside artists set up in the hallways. (In recent years, Art Walks have become common across the United States.) Since then, the collection has been growing and growing and growing.
She now occupies over half the space. In 2016, the museum moved downstairs into an air-conditioned space.
More about Lucky Cats
Many visitors at Japanese or Chinese restaurants are greeted by a statue of a cat holding up or waving its paw. This is the Maneki Neko, a lucky charm originating in Edo era Japan, said to bring prosperity to those displaying it.
These beckoning felines (maneki = to beckon, neko = cat) are often referred to as Lucky or Fortune Cats. They have become a pop culture icon around the world. More information about their history and meaning can be found on our “About Maneki Neko” page.
Depending on color, design, raised paw, body position, Maneki Neko beckons for all sorts of things. Most commonly you will see them inviting fortune, luck, or customers. They have also managed to become an icon in both Japanese and Chinese culture.
Where did the Lucky Cats come from?
The earliest records of Maneki-neko appear in the Bukō nenpyō’s (a chronology of Edo), Toyoko, entry dated 1852..
Many legends about Maneki Neko
There are many legends about where Maneki Neko came from. Here are some of the more common ones.
– In Japan, during the Edo era , there was a very poor priest and his very poor cat in their very poor temple. The priest had no money for the upkeep of the temple, nor did he have any food to fill his belly. Even the mice were starving and were no meal for his cat Tama-chan.
Tama-chan was a good little cat and felt terrible for the priest’s worrying so. As she pondered what a simple cat like her could do to help, a storm rose up and showered rain fiercely upon the land.
Naotaka-sama, a very wealthy man, was traveling when the rain ushered forth. So he hid beneath one of the Sakura trees on the temple grounds.
Tama-chan noticed him resting there, and began calling out to him. “Nya nya nya!” But Naotaka-sama could not hear her over the pounding raindrops. Tama-chan felt her hair grow bristly and knew she had to try harder. She cried again, louder, and waved her paw to call him over. Her waving paw drew his attention, and as he joined her on the temple steps, lightning struck the Sakura tree he’d been standing under. He chose to thank Tama-chan and the priest by making their poor little temple his family temple. It was renamed Gotokuji (Gotoku Shrine) in his honor.
Legend: Cat washing its face
Still other legends note 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 rain. Thus, it is possible a belief arose that a figure of a cat washing its face would bring in customers.
In his Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, China’s Tang Dynasty author Duan Chengshi (803?–863) wrote: ‘If a cat raises its paw over the ears and washes its face, then patrons will come’. Statues of cats washing their ears (though very different in style to Maneki-Neko) have been found as early as the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 to 534 AD).
Legend: Starving Cat sits in front of store beckoning customers in
Another folk tale tells of the operator of an impoverished shop (or inn, tavern, temple) taking in a starving stray cat despite barely having enough to feed himself. In gratitude, the cat sat in the front of the store beckoning customers, thus bringing prosperity as a reward to the charitable proprietor. Ever after, the beckoning cat has been a symbol of good luck for small business owners.
What do lucky cats look like?
Maneki Neko is a common Japanese figurine which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. In modern times, they are usually made of ceramic or plastic.
- The figurine depicts a cat, traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail, with a paw raised in a Japanese beckoning gesture.
- The figurines are often displayed in shops, restaurants, pachinko parlors, dry cleaners, laundromats, bars, casinos, hotels, nightclubs, and other businesses, generally near the entrance. Some Maneki-Neko are equipped with a mechanical paw which slowly moves back and forth.
- Maneki-Neko are traditionally seated, holding a koban coin, with one paw raised in a beckoning gesture. To some Westerners, it appears the Maneki-Neko is waving rather than beckoning, thus the term waving cat.
In Japanese culture the 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.
A statue with the left paw raised is to get more customers, while the right paw raised is to get more money. Hence it is also said that the one with left paw is for business and the right is for home.
Some Maneki-Neko even feature battery, or solar-powered moving arms, repeatedly engaged in the beckoning gesture.
Originally, Maneki-Neko were white, but over the years, different color variations have evolved. Here we take a look at what the colors mean.
- White: get good luck and overall good fortune
- Black: to ward off evil
- Red: good health
- Yellow or gold: wealth
- And Pink: romance
Because of its popularity in Chinese and Vietnamese communities (including Chinatowns in the United States) the Maneki-Neko is frequently mistaken for being Chinese in origin rather than Japanese, and is incorrectly referred to as a “Chinese lucky cat” or jīnmāo (golden cat).
At Paws, we were intrigued by the possibility of finding a host of cat places to see around the world. We are writing a whole section on cat tourism, and you may want to check out some of our posts about cat tourism and events.
- Get your cat fix at the Dr Seuss Museum
- Poland’s Cat Museum Ideal for Cat Lovers
- Virtual Museum Tours for Cat Lovers
- Cat Best Selling Author Gwen Cooper tells how cat tourism events help cats
- Cat Tourism on the Rise & Why We Are Writing About It
- Hurricane Irma’s Cat Heroes Work to Keep Cats Safe at Ernest Hemingway Museum
Do you have some favorite cat tourism destinations? If so please share so we can write about them. To get the latest news about cat tourism destinations, and cat news, sign up for our email list on the link below and get YOUR FREE Guide to Stop Kitty from Destroying your Sofa.
Wow, what a neat museum! It’s always interesting to learn about unique museums like this, especially when they’re cat related. If I ever make it up to Ohio, I’ll definitely check it out!
I can’t wait till we can go visit these cool cat places in person. Things to look forward to.
All these Maneki-Nekomuseums sound fabulous and the tours would be so enjoyable, whether in-person or virtual!
Have you heard of the Catskill New York cat statues in front of every business in the summer? Different artists paint and decorate each one, starting with the same standardized cat forms. They look a little stylized in a way to me, but the artists do come up with some fantastic variations. I Haven’t been there, couldn’t really travel much even pre-pandemic. It would a definite destination if I could!
I have 2 little statues like that. It would be fun to visit the museum- after the pandemic.
They are closed right now, but it’s good to plan ahead because this pandemic won’t last forever, though sometimes it feels that way.