Ever since my friend Monica had posted about the cat shrine (here) in Gotokuji, in the quiet Setagaya Ward of Tokyo, I wanted to go and see it for myself. The shrine is famous for the hundreds of statues of the “Maneki Neko” – the beckoning cat, which usually greets customers in front of Japanese restaurants and stores.
Usually made of ceramic or plastic, the figurine depict a cat with an upright paw as if beckoning people towards it. It is said that the raised paw brings in customers, while the other paw brings in good luck and wealth.
The legend says that the maneki neko originated back in Edo period, when a feudal lord from Hikone passed by a temple in Edo. There, he met a cat that beckoned him to come into the temple. The lord followed the cat and decided to stop by the temple. Suddenly, there was a thunderstorm, which the lord avoided thanks to the cat. The lord, who took shelter at the temple, became thankful of the cat’s deed; eventually, he collected enough funds to rebuild and claim the temple as his family temple, which eventually became Gotokuji. As time went on, people began to offer maneki neko figurines to the temple as a sign of gratitude when their wishes came true.
The temple is located 15-20 minutes away from Gotokuji station (here is a link to it on Google maps, I found that useful in trying to locate the temple). If you keep your eyes open, you notice that there are some signs to the cat temple dotted along the way:
But in fact the whole area is dotted with cats and shops selling cat souvenirs… so while this might not help you to find the way, it will confirm that you are getting closer to the cat temple!
I had to walk around its grounds to reach its gate, which is at the southern side of its walls.
Once inside, keep to the right of the main building, to reach a corner of the temple in a small area with shelves full of cats!
The area where the cats are located is quite small, probably five meters in length and maybe one meter wide. However in that small area, there are more than 1,000 statues of Maneki Neko in many different sizes.
They all look the same – and that is on purpose. You can’t just bring a cat statue and place it here, it has to be the same white cat with red ears. You can buy the statues at the temple office. The smallest size (1cm figurine) costs 300 Yen, the biggest cat (about 40cm) 5,000 Yen.