Gotokuji: The Lucky Cat Temple

If there is one thing Japan is often associated with abroad, it must be a cat. But not just any cat: the little waving cat called maneki neko. Usually, at a shop’s entrance there are figures of cats with a raised paw, which is said to attract good fortune. Some cat figures are automatic lifting and lowering the paws non-stop.

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Photo credit: pnwbot on Flickr

Recently we discovered a temple that could be this cat’s birthplace. As I absolutely love cats, I felt that this is one of the must-visit spots.  According to one of the legends that goes back to the Edo era, a cat beckoned a feudal lord into a temple, thus saving him from the thunderstorm. As an expression of his gratitude he re-built the old temple to worship the kind cat. Now the temple is called Gotokuji.


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It is easily accessed from Gotokuji Station (operated by Odakyu: Odawara line). Immediately exiting the station, you will see a large statue of the welcoming cat. Stroll through a lovely shopping street and follow the cute cats directions from there.  They pretty much continue throughout the whole way.

Located away from all the hustle and bustle of a noisy city, the grounds of the temple are quite spacious. There is a 3-story pagoda and other beautiful architecture. There is also a graveyard.

We went during the cherry blossoming week and the colors were amazing. There are other trees too, so it must be a nice place to stroll at any time. Unless you happen to be there during some special events, you will not see many people and the place is very calming and peaceful.

Coming back to lucky cats. Unfortunately, we did not see any real cats. However, you can purchase a cat figure in the temple’s shop. Once your wish comes true, bring the cat back and put on a special display.

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Photo credit: pnwbot on Flickr

I have to admit I’ve never seen so many maneki neko figures at once. Some looked new, some very old. They are of all sizes too. Mostly, they are of the same design. And for some reason, all the cat faces there contain visible eyebrows, making them look more human in my opinion.

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Photo credit: pnwbot on Flickr

I noticed that some of the tiniest ones had fallen on the ground. As I started to put them back to places, an old man approached me asking what I was doing. He kindly thanked me and said that there was a more cute maneki neko on one of the buildings. He was right: there was a little cat waving luck to all the visitors! A bit hard to notice at first, the figure is quite charming and fun to find.

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Photo credit: pnwbot


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You can also buy one of those wooden plates to write your wishes and hang on the board. They were also representing cats of course.

The temple closes at 6 PM.  There is not much around it, but we still enjoyed the quiet and cozy streets of this residential area, Setagaya-ward, and headed to Shibuya. It’s a bit far from Shibuya station, though worth walking for those who enjoy an urban stroll.

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