One of the highlights of my trip to Japan last summer was Gotokuji Temple, the famous “cat shrine” in Tokyo’s Setagaya suburb.
Gotokuji is home to thousands of statues of maneki-neko, or “beckoning cat,” an important and ubiquitous image in Japan: Statues of maneki-neko adorn shops and virtually every public place in Tokyo, but Gotokuji is where the legend of the beckoning cat was born. Visitors write prayers on the statues and ask for good luck for a variety of venture, from opening new businesses to getting married.
There is, however, only one current feline resident at Gotokuji, while Kyoto’s Nyan Nyan Ji — literally “meow meow shrine” — is populated exclusively by feline “monks,” who wear monkly garb and take their duties — especially napping, er, meditating — very seriously.
The most recognizable of them is Koyuki, the chief cat priestess at Nyan Nyan Ji.
Here are some photos, all courtesy of the temple’s Instagram, showing what life is like for Koyuki and her fellow priests:
And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:13-16
Growing up Catholic, I heard the story of Jesus furiously expelling the money-changers and merchants from the temple at least a few times a year in church gospels.
The message was clear: Houses of worship are supposedly to be solemn and hushed places where people can speak to God in peace.
Sensō-ji temple is quite the opposite.
Sensō-ji is not only Japan’s oldest temple, it’s one of the most-visited spiritual sites in the world, with an estimated 30 million annual visitors.
It’s also one of Tokyo’s most-accessible shrines, just a short walk from a subway stop in Asakusa. All that foot traffic makes it irresistible for local merchants, who sell everything from traditional lanterns to t-shirts, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and hats.
On the day I visited a steady rain hadn’t put a dent in the mixed crowd of locals and tourists.
A giant lantern hangs beneath the temple gate, which was rebuilt in 1960 after a fire destroyed its predecessor. While most of the structures at Sensō-ji are reproductions, the area has been a religious site for more than 1,000 years.
Near the heart of the city, under the shadow of Tokyo Tower, is Zōjō-ji Temple.
The shrine is the most important location in a 1,000-year-old sect of Buddhism as well as the burial grounds of the last shoguns. But what’s most striking about the complex is how it contrasts the old and the new — the sangedatsumon (“gate”) to Zōjō-ji, pictured above, is the oldest surviving wooden structure in Tokyo, leading to an island of tranquility amid skyscrapers, subway lines, neon signs and thousands of shops.
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