Gotokuji Temple (豪徳寺) is a place to visit if you love cats, as it is considered the birthplace of the famous maneki-neko amulet. You know, the little cat with its upper right paw raised for good luck. And no, it is not of Chinese origin.
This Buddhist temple is located in Setagaya district, in the west of Tokyo. You can combine the visit with other places in the area, or with a ride on the Setagaya streetcar, one of the only two streetcars left in Tokyo.
Origin of maneki-neko and Gotokuji Temple
There are many legends about the origin of maneki-neko, but the most famous one is the one related to Gotokuji temple.
The legend says that in the 17th century, in the middle of the Edo period, the temple was very poor and had serious financial problems. The monk who lived there became an old man and shared the little food he had with his cat.
One day, a feudal lord and rich man named Ii Naokata was caught in a storm while hunting. The man took shelter in a tree near the temple and while he was waiting for the storm to subside, he saw a black, white and brown cat beckoning him to come to the temple door: it seemed to lift a paw and wave it.
The man was so surprised that he left the shelter of the tree to approach the cat and get a better look at it, just as a scratch fell on the tree that had been his shelter. Grateful for saving his life, the man donated rice fields and farmland to the temple, financed the temple’s repairs, and the temple flourished. Thus, thanks to the cat, the temple became very rich and gained wealth and prosperity.
When the cat died, it was given a solemn and loving burial in the cat cemetery of Gotokuji temple and the maneki-neko was created in its honor.
So it is understandable that the legend says that the presence of a maneki-neko in the workplace, at home or even on a website is supposed to bring good luck (or prosperity in business, for that matter).
If you are a cat lover and are looking forward to seeing hundreds of maneki-neko together, you will certainly find this temple interesting to visit.
A visit to Gotokuji Temple
Under the patronage of the Li clan, Gotokuji Temple was enlarged, so that the complex we can visit today is quite large.
The tour starts from the main Sanmon gate, as neither the front nor the back gate are open to the public.
As you walk through the Sanmon gate, you will see the bell tower on one side and a beautiful three-story pagoda on the other side. Behind the three-story pagoda is the large cemetery, marked by six statues of Jizo.
Many members of the Ii family are buried in this graveyard, and part of the Gotokuji Temple graveyard is dedicated exclusively to cats, of course. Next to it, you can see the shrine or Buddha Hall (Butsuden). And when you go through the small Akamon gate, you can enter the small, slightly older maneki-neko hall.
Behind the maneki-neko hall, you will find the cinerary. This is the room where the ashes of the worshippers of the temple are kept.
On the main plaza of the temple you will find the main hall and the temple office. At the office you can buy maneki-neko statues and ema wooden boards with cats drawn on them, which you can then hang in the hall dedicated to these kittens.
In addition, you can also get your goshuin or temple calligraphy, which of course contains a kitten. As a curiosity, at Gotokuji Temple, even the drink dispensers are decorated with small maneki-neko.
The maneki-neko room
The sides of this hall are filled with maneki-neko statuettes of various sizes. The worshippers leave them there to ask or thank the deities of the temple for their good fortune.
It is interesting to note that at Gotokuji Temple, most of the wishes and prayers written on ema tablets are dedicated to cats that many Japanese keep as pets. It is difficult to find other types of wishes on these ema, which is not the case in other temples.
How to get to Gotokuji Temple
One of the most convenient ways to get to Gotokuji Temple is to take the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku to Gotokuji Station (20 minutes) and walk for about 15-20 minutes to the temple.
The second option to get to the temple is to go to Miyanosaka station on the Tokyu Setagaya streetcar line, which is closer to the temple. In any case, both options are good.
By the way, right next to the streetcar station, there is an old car we can get into. It is an old green Enoden 601.
The walk from Gotokuji station to the temple is a nice and quiet walk. As soon as you leave the station, you will come across a maneki-neko and the whole shopping street will be lined with stores, restaurants and hipster cafes.
You will then come to a quieter area with houses and gardens, giving you a more relaxed atmosphere as you prepare to enter the temple.
2 Chome-24-7 Gotokuji, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0021, Japan