Japan | Down on your luck? Take a wander in Tokyo's Gotoku-ji cat temple
Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop. Photo : Said Karlsson

Cat beckons

One of the quirkiest temples in the Tokyo area has to be Gotoku-ji.

January 15, 2017 12:22 PM (UTC+8)

One of the quirkiest temples in the Tokyo area has to be Gotoku-ji. At the entrance to the grounds it looks like most other temples, but once you take a wander inside a distinct feature makes this place stand out.

Along the path leading to the main temple are thousands of the white lucky cat figures known as Maneki-neko, or beckoning cat, in Japanese. Every day, visitors place new cat figures here dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.  It’s supposed to bring good luck.

There are several legends around the origin of the cat figure.  One recounts that a feudal lord was walking by Gotoku-ji back in the Edo era when he saw a cat in front of a temple gate that appeared to be waving or beckoning to him.  Curious, he followed the cat into the temple and while inside a huge thunderstorm broke.  Thanks to the cat, the lord escaped a drenching, so in gratitude he donated rice and land to the head priest of the temple, the owner of the cat.

Maneki-nekos today are often found in shop windows or at the entrance to businesses, to beckon inside wealth and good luck.  When the cat died, it was enshrined as a god called Shobyo Kannon.  People started visiting and placing cat figures in the temple, until it evolved into the widespread and well known symbol of good luck that we all know today.

Whatever the origin of Maneki-neko, this charming temple deserves a visit.  Gotoku-ji is located in Setagaya ward in the southwestern part of Tokyo. The nearest train station is Gotokuji on the Odakyu-line.

According to legend, Gotoku-ji is the birthplace of Maneki-neko, the famous lucky cat figure. Photo: Said Karlsson

According to legend, Gotoku-ji is the birthplace of Maneki-neko, the famous lucky cat figure. Photo: Said Karlsson

Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop.

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Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop. Photo: Said Karlsson

Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop. Photo: Said Karlsson

Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop. Photo : Said Karlsson

The cats are to honor Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The rest of the vast temple grounds are more traditional.

The cats are placed around a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The rest of the vast temple grounds are more traditional. Photo: Said Karlsson

 

The cats are placed around a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The rest of the vast temple grounds are more traditional. Photo: Said Karlsson

The cats are placed around a statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The rest of the vast temple grounds are more traditional.

The cat is a prominent figure on signs in the neighborhood as well. Here is one on a local yakitori (grilled chicken) shop.

The cat is a prominent figure on signs in the neighborhood as well. Here is a sign belonging to a local yakitori (grilled chicken) shop. Photo: Said Karlsson

Gotokuji is one of the major temples in Setagaya-ku, one of the biggest districts in Tokyo.

Gotokuji is one of the major temples in Setagaya-ku, one of the biggest districts of Tokyo. Photo: Said Karlsson

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive.

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive. Photo: Said Karlsson

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive. Photo: Said Karlsson

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive. Photo: Said Karlsson

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive.

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive. Photo: Said Karlsson

Most of the Maneki-neko are spotlessly clean…

Most of the Maneki-neko are spotlessly clean. Photo: Said Karlsson

Most of the Maneki-neko are spotlessly clean. Photo: Said Karlsson

… But on some of them, moss has started to grow.

But on some of them, moss has started to grow. Photo: Said Karlsson

But on some of them, moss has started to grow. Photo: Said Karlsson

If you need a spot of luck, adding another cat to this impressive collection might be worth considering.

If you need a boost of luck in your life, putting another cat to this impressive collection might be an idea worth considering.

If you need a boost of luck in your life, putting another cat to this impressive collection might be an idea worth considering. Photo:

Said Karlsson is a Tokyo-based photographer.  More of his portfolio of work can be found here

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