No trip to Japan would be complete for me without a visit to Gōtokuji Temple, home of the famous cat shrine.
Legend has it that a feudal lord and a few of his samurai were road-weary and looking for a spot to rest when they saw a cat by the road, beckoning them with a waving paw.
The lord and his men followed the cat, who led them to a humble temple. The group reached the shelter of the temple just in time to avoid a thunderstorm and resultant downpour.
Thankful that he was dry and warm — and inspired by the temple monk’s sermon — the feudal lord vowed to become the temple’s benefactor, providing the funds for the extensive grounds that exist at Gōtokuji Temple today.
Because it was the cat who led the lord to the shelter of the temple, the “beckoning cat” — maneki neko — became associated with good luck across Japan. Today maneki neko can be seen in shops, restaurants and homes throughout the country.
Even by the immaculate standards of Japanese temple complexes, Gōtokuji Temple is remarkably well-manicured.
Situated in the “suburbs” of Setagaya, Gōtokuji is also more quiet and peaceful than some of the other temples that are wedged between skyscrapers and commercial plazas.
Staff at Gōtokuji Temple paint calligraphy with the temple’s symbols and stamp them.
Like other shrines throughout Japan, the temple has its own calligraphic symbols and stamps.