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.
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.
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.