Setagaya: The Magnificent Cat Shrine

Look at all the buddies!

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.

Gōtokuji Temple in Setagaya, Tokyo
Thousands of maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) statues are placed at Gōtokuji Temple.

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.
Gōtokuji Temple
The Gōtokuji Temple grounds are well-manicured even by Japanese standards.
Gōtokuji Temple
According to a local docent — a kindly elderly man toting a photo album of the shrine — the temple structure above is inhabited by a brown-coated cat, who calls the second floor home.

 

Cat Shrine Temple
The shrine grounds include several temples and other structures.
Gōtokuji Temple
Staff at Gōtokuji Temple paint calligraphy with the temple’s symbols and stamp them.
Japanese calligraphy
Like other shrines throughout Japan, the temple has its own calligraphic symbols and stamps.
Gōtokuji Temple
That’s a lot of cats!
Gōtokuji Temple
Visitors leave statues of the beckoning cat as they pray for personal success or prosperity in business.

 

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