by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
Today Japlanning are taking a glimpse at one of Tokyo's lesser known temples, Gotoku-ji. This little temple is situated away from the business and madness of Shinjuku in a quiet ward, amongst family homes and corner shops. Gotoku-ji is a very unique temple, in that it's grounds are filled with hundreds of "maneki neko" or as many may know the little statues: Happy (or Lucky) Cats!
One of the most amazing things about Japan is the way the past and future live in harmony. You can walk down a neon flooded street in Shinjuku, feeling like you have stepped into the future, and then around another corner be thrown back hundreds of years in to Japan's deep history. Just 10 minutes away from the Shinjuku, in the peaceful Tokyo ward of Setagaya this temple is about a 10 minute walt from Gotokuji Station.
The history behind the temple is quite fascinating, and part of what has made it so popular. Gotoku-ji is the birthplace of maneki neko, the beckoning cat, the statute of a cat waving you to come in that is at the entrance of countless stores and restaurants in Japan and all over the world.
It's origin dates back to the Edo period, when the feudal lord of Hikone walked by Gotoku-ji while making his way home, and noticed a cat at the gates of the temple, beckoning the lord. The lord took notice, and went and stopped to rest at the temple. Just as he got to the temple gates, out of nowhere the sky darkened and a vicious thunderstorm arrived. The cat stopped the lord from getting stuck in the storm and getting soaked. The lord of Hikone was so grateful he made many donations to the temple, and helped fund to rebuild it from it's derelict state, so much so that he ended up designating the temple as his family's temple.
As the years went on, the temple cat naturally passed away. In honor of the cat, a smaller temple by the name of Shobyodo Temple (the beckoning cat temple) was built inside Gotoku-ji's grounds, and over all the years visitors to the temple have left Maneki Neko statues of all sizes to show their thanks when their wishes come true.
The walk from the station to the temple is quite peaceful and serene, a great prelude to this quiet temple.
Once you enter the temple gates you will notice the temple grounds are quite large. The temple gardens are lovely, and it definitely pays to visit during the sakura blossom, as it is filled with many cherry blossom trees. However in the fall is also spectacular, as the red maple trees on the ground paint the sky in red.
Inside the grounds you will easily find Shobyodo temple, the shrine dedicated to the temple's cat. Here you will find hundreds of Maneki Neko statues and figurines stacked up on shelves, and even balancing on the building's edges.
In fact you will spot these figurines all over the temple grounds, they have slowly spread from just the Shobyodo shrine area to the surrounding grounds. However, the shrine is definitely where you will find the most concentrated group of them.
On the grounds there are many temple buildings, including a main hall, pagoda, temple office and a large cemetary off to the side of the main hall.
At the temple office, if it is open, you can donate to the temple, in exchange for a ema board and leave your own wishes for luck at the temple, as well as purchase Maneki Neko figurines of all sizes to leave as a wish or keep as a sweet reminder of your visit.
Gotoku-ji is a lovely temple, with a fascinating history and quirkiness you don't normally find at most temples. The happy cat figurines and statues certainly bring a dash of bright colours to the temple.
Due to this being a little off the beaten track and not such a tourist hot spot, the visitors to the temple are also a great mix. You will find tourists mixed in with a lot of locals visiting the temple, wandering the gardens, or just finding a quiet place to eat their lunch.
Getting to Gotoku-ji is fairly easy from anywhere in Tokyo.
- Make your way to Shinjuku station
- Take the Kieo Line Rapid
- Change trains at Shimo-Takaido station
- Take the Tokyu Setagaya line
- Get off the train at Miyanosaka station
From Miyanosaka station, the temple is about a 5-10 minute walk.
Exit the station north and take the first left, then walk down the street to the first right then you will be walking along Gotoku-ji Temple's walls until you get to the temple gates entrance.