Right before the cherry blossoms went into full bloom, I stumbled upon a station with a Maneki-neko (fortune bringing cat). Turns out the legendary Maneki-neko temple – Goutokuji was in the vicinity.
Taking a quick walk through Setagaya ward’s alleys, I find myself at the front door of a pretty huge temple. From the outside it looks not much different from other old temples I’ve been to. Nice breeze, trees, peaceful atmosphere… Feels just about right.
A quick note about temples in Japan, especially those bigger ones, is that they have different shrines within the same compound. This could mean that within one big temple, different deities are enshrined in different ‘houses’, if one can call them houses.
I realized visitors were heading in the same direction, a little corner on the left hand side of the temple. Curiosity piqued, I followed them. In this case, curiosity didn’t kill the cat!
Maneki-nekos in all sizes, with the same raised left paw staring at me. It is quite unsettling; imagine hundreds of cats looking at you. Taking photos with the cats seem to be quite the regular thing to do for visitors, and I took some myself.
Moving beyond the Maneki-nekos, I made a quick prayer to the Maneki-neko deity that was enshrined in the temple for some good fortune. The usual wooden box where you throw a five-yen coin in (five-yen sounds like Go-en, a word that encompasses a myriad of meanings – fate, chance, relationships and the like) and make a prayer isn’t there, but there is a huge bell you could ring before asking the deity for some good luck.
You could buy an ema (a wooden plague that you could write your prayers or wishes on); with such a cute presentation even the gods will find it hard not answering your prayers. It makes a real cute souvenir anyhow.
I would definitely recommend a walk around the compound of the temple. It may not be the same as Meiji-jingu or other bigger and more popular shrines, but there is something very calming about the temple that soothes the troubled city-dweller. There are wooden benches to rest those tired feet, and if one has a chance to take a walk around, you’ll find a cemetery right next to a pagoda in front of the Maneki-neko shrine.
In the day Japanese cemeteries give off a very different vibe from those you would imagine appear frequently in horror films. They are a great place to take a breather from the usual hustle and bustle of the city, and as long as you don’t do anything offensive or insulting to those lying in peace there, it’s possible to take a seat and relax. Some of the bigger ones do have benches around for the weary to rest.
If you have the time and are feeling a little jaded from the day, it would make a great place to take in the fresh crisp air and recharge. The pine trees and other shrubs within the area also make for good photos.
The last bit to highlight – the pagoda. If you notice close enough, there are cats carved on the walls of the lowest floor of the pagoda. While you’re not allowed in, if you squint hard enough, you’ll see them. That was a pleasant surprise to end my trip in the area.
To get here, take the local Odakyu train and get off at Goutokuji. It is about 15 minutes away from the station. I would recommend taking a photo with the Maneki-neko at the station first before starting your little walk.