Japan is experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom in its history. In addition to already famous tourist areas such as Asakusa, Shinjuku and Hakone, there is a number of new and very unlikely sites that are attracting foreign tourists. Gotoku-ji (Gotoku Temple) is one of them.
It is a highly unlikely place to be so popular. First of all, Gotoku-ji is considered as ‘far’ from Tokyo. It is located in Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, and the nearest station is Miyanosaka on Setagaya Line. It’s a beautiful temple, but there is nothing else that is sightseeing worthy. Of tens of thousands of temples Japan has, you might wonder what’s so special about this one. It’s the waving cat – Maneki Neko. And there are thousands of them there.
You’ve probably seen waving cat dolls at many Japanese restaurants. This is because the waving cat is believed to be a lucky charm that helps bring fortune to shops. There are many different version of the origin of waving cats, but Gotoku-ji is widely considered as the place of origin.
The folklore goes like this: There was a very poor buddhist monk at Gotoku-ji during the Edo Period. He looked after a stray cat that began living at the temple, sharing his food with it even though he had very little to eat. One day he asked the cat, “if you are grateful, please bring some fortune to the temple”.
Some months later, the monk saw five to six samurai riding into the temple. The head of the group said, “I’m Naotaka Ii, the king of Hikone, Koshu Prefecture. As we were riding past your temple, your cat waved at us as if to invite us inside.” Suddenly, the sky darkened and there was a thunderstorm. While waiting for the storm to pass, the samurai listened to the Monk preaching on the relationship between past, present and future.
Ii thanked the Monk and the cat, saying “Thanks to your cat waiting at us, we were able to avoid the thunderstorm and listened to your preach. This has opened our eyes and this must be the beginning of something new”. When Ii returned home, Ii donated a large amount of rice and significantly contributed to rebuilding the temple.
What happened to the cat? it may have been a lucky cat, but it couldn’t avoid death, of course. The Monk built a grave for the cat so that people could remember the cat’s story and worship it. Btw, the ancestors of the Ii family are varied at Gotoku-temple, including the most famous Naosuke.
At Gotoku-ji today, visitors can purchase a manaki neko doll of varying size. You can take it home or leave yours along with thousands of manaki neko waving cats at Gotoku-ji.
If you are going to visit Gotoku-ji, you might also like to spend some time exploring Shimotakaido on the way. On the way back from Gotoku-ji, try taking the Setagaya Line to Sangenjyaya Station and explore Sangenjyaya for a few hours. Shimotakaido, Gotoku-ji and Sangenjyaya will make a great day trip.
Address: Tokyo-to, Setagaya-ku, Gotokuji 2-24-7
How to get there:
1. Get on Keio Line from Shinjuku Station and get off at Shimotakaido Station.
2. Get on Setagaya Line from Shimotakaido Station and get off at Miyanosaka Station.
3. Walk to Gotoku-ji for 5 minutes.