Whenever I'm asked about what images I associate with Japan, one of the things that comes quickly to mind are the beckoning cats. You see them everywhere. They'll be at restaurants and shops with one or, in some cases, both paws raised. In Japanese they are called, "招き猫", (maneki neko) which literally means, “beckoning cat”. They are, usually, small figurines that bring luck, customers and money. Their home is Gotokuji, which is a temple in Tokyo's Setagaya ward.
Gotokuji is a lovely little place with, depending on the day, few visitors. It is a very different place to the larger temples and shrines like Sensoji, Zojoji or Meiji Jingu that attract huge numbers of tourist. As Gotokuji is out in Tokyo's suburbs, it takes a little effort to get to. However, it is all worthwhile once you get there as it has the cats, a pagoda and lots of trees. It is a lovely place. And as the temple has a large cemetery, you'll also find most Japanese go there to attend their family graves, so noise is very minimal - nice and quiet. It really is suburban Tokyo.
I think most people would be quite surprised on their first visit. The area where the cats are located is quite small, open area about five meters in length and maybe one meter wide with. The cats are placed on the ground, on statues, on a covered shelf, on window frames! They really cover the whole area. The number of Maneki Neko is probably around 1500 as some extra display shelves were added recently.
The cats are of all different sizes too. Some are quite large but many of them are very small. They all have one thing in common though - they are very cute! With that upraised beckoning paw don't be surprised if you want to take one home with you. If you do want to buy one, you can spend between 300 and 5000 yen at the temple's administration building that has them on sale. The 300 yen ones are tiny, just a couple of centimetres high while the 5000 yen ones are pretty big. If you want you could also write you wish on the back and leave it with the other cats, as many people do.
The only other thing there to see at Gotokuji is the grave of Naosuke Ii. To be honest, it isn't much to look at, but for those with a interest in history it is something to see. His grave lies in his family's plot which occupies one corner of Gotokuji. Ii was the daimyo of Hikone (what is now Shiga prefecture) as well as occupying the office of Tairo (or Great Elder) of the Tokugawa government when it ruled Japan. He was assassinated at the Imperial palace's Sakuradamon (Sakurada gate).
Unfortunately, Gotokuji doesn't seem to have a website, but if you want to learn more about the maneki neko, you can read this article about them on wikipedia here.
How to get to Gotokuji
There are two ways to get to Gotokuji. One is via the Odakyu line. Get off at Gotokuji and walk about 15 minutes to the temple. I don't really recommend this way unless you have a smart phone with a map application on it, as the road there isn't a straight one.
The best way I think is to use the Keio line and get off at Shimo-Takaido station and change to the Tokyu Setagaya (tram) line to get to Miyanosaka station. From Miyanosaka station it is just a few minute's walk up to the temple. Here is a Google map to give you an idea:
The administration building is open from 8:30am until about 5pm while the temple grounds are open from 6am to about 6pm.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Aoyama cemetery - a great place for photographers and history buffs
Edo-Tokyo Museum - a huge place where you can found out more of this city's amazing history
Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum - learn about Japan's old houses
Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens - one of Tokyo's smallest but most beautiful parks
Omiya Hachiman - one of Tokyo's more local shrines