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Gotokuji Temple: Tokyo's Maneki Neko 'Lucky Cat' Temple - A Must-Visit for Cat Lovers!

Gotokuji Temple: Tokyo's Maneki Neko 'Lucky Cat' Temple - A Must-Visit for Cat Lovers!

Last updated: 31 May 2024

Gotokuji Temple, located in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, is a Buddhist temple that is said to be the birthplace of the maneki-neko, or “luck-inviting cat figurine.”

These small statues, which portray a cat sitting up and beckoning with its front paw, have become quite popular all over the world with cat-lovers.

Although there are many different kinds of maneki-neko raising either their right or left paws, Gotokuji Temple specializes in the right-pawed version of this good-luck symbol.

The legend behind Gotokuji Temple

The legend behind Gotokuji Temple

According to temple legend, in the early 17th century, Ii Naotaka, the second lord of the Omi-Hikone Domain, was caught in a sudden thunderstorm. A cat living at the temple invited him inside, providing shelter from the storm.

In gratitude to the cat, Naotaka dedicated the temple to the Ii clan. After Naotaka's death, the temple was renamed Gotokuji, derived from his posthumous Buddhist name, “Kyushoin-den Gotokuten ei-daikoji.”

The cat that created the opportunity for the temple to grow into a respected and important place was deified as the "Fortune-Inviting Kannon."

This cat, later known for bringing good fortune, became known as "shou-fuku byou-ji" or "maneki-neko." Gotokuji Temple has since been filled with lucky cat figurines donated by worshippers, symbolizing the cat's enduring legacy of good luck.

Where is Gotokuji Temple?

Where is Gotokuji Temple?

Gotokuji is a quiet temple located away from the bustling center of Tokyo, making it an ideal stop for any cat-lover interested in Japanese culture and history.

The staff at Gotokuji Temple are friendly and welcoming. Despite any language barriers, English speakers will find it easy to learn the story of the Fortune-Inviting Kannon and enjoy their visit to this marvelous temple.

Inside the temple, visitors can purchase omikuji (Japanese fortunes) and cat figurines in a wide variety of sizes. Omikuji are always fun to get when visiting a temple. For those who cannot read Japanese, the staff can help by indicating whether you received a good (大吉) or bad (大凶) fortune.

If you receive a good fortune, keep it! If not, you can tie the fortune to the branch of a tree near the reception area to leave your bad luck behind.

Visitors to Gotokuji often buy a cat figurine, make a wish or prayer for good luck, and then leave it at the temple.

However, it is also possible to take the cat figurine home and keep it until the wish or prayer is fulfilled. Once it is, it is advised to make a return trip to Gotokuji and place the cat figurine at the temple to give thanks.

The cats themselves are located in a small corner of the temple. Dozens of white cats of all sizes placed together waving in perfect white-pawed unison will make for a great photo of your trip!

Although the cats are the stars of Gotokuji Temple, there are many other things to see. Visitors can purchase wooden ema plaques (from the same building the cat figurines and omikuji are sold) on which they can write their hopes and prayers.

The ema boards hung on the wall in hope that the wishes will come true. Of course, the famous maneki-neko of Gotokuji Temple are featured on these boards as well.

At the back of the temple grounds, there is a small cemetery that holds a piece of history. Japanese cemeteries are an interesting part of the culture that isn’t commonly discussed and are often difficult to visit as a tourist in Japan because they are usually locked.

However, at Gotokuji Temple, the cemetery is accessible and is said to hold the remains of the Ii clan, the family that brought the temple its fortune. Even if you can’t read the gravestones, it’s still a serene and historically significant place to visit.

The grounds of Gotokuji Temple are magnificent, an excellent example of traditional Japanese architecture paired with the well-tended gardens and a peaceful atmosphere.

It is definitely worth a side-trip from Tokyo's more congested and touristy places to visit this calm oasis in the middle of the big city. It is the sort of unique experience one can only enjoy in Japan.

Written by: Richel Diaz

  • Gotokuji
    • Address 2-24-7, Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 154-0021
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Miyanosaka Station (Tokyu Setagaya Line)
      5 minutes on foot
    • Phone Number 03-3426-1437
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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