On our way to Matsumoto we decided to stop by the famous Tokyo’ “Lucky Cat” Temple in Setagaya. An absolute must visit for cat lovers! It’s quite a ways away from most of Tokyo’s top tourist spots so it’s often skipped by overseas tourists. It was a rainy day with not many visitors around. We parked our car near the temple and explored.
Gotoku-ji (大谿山 豪徳寺) is a Buddhist temple famous as the supposed birth place of Maneki Neko or as it is also know in English: Lucky or Beckoning Cat. You will find hundreds of lucky charms of a white cat with it’s right paw raised. You can buy your own at the temple shop. It is believed that if you return to the temple after your wish is fulfilled it will be multiplied by the amount of cats present at the site.
You might have noticed that unlike most depictions of Maneki Neko that hold a golden coin this one does not have one. The lucky cat with the coin finds it’s origin in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture, which is also currently a major production area of these figurines. There is a good reason why Gotoku-ji’ Lucky Cat does not hold a coin. It is said that he does not bring fortune itself but rather an opportunity which is up to the person themselves to take advantage of. Manaki Neko which raises it’s right paw up invites fortune; if it raises it’s left paw it invites people.
But what is the relationship between Maneki Neko and Gotoku-ji? The legend has it that during 17th centaury, Li Naotaka – a feudal lord, was returning home from falconry and when he passed a small temple’s gate a white cat raised it’s paw inviting him inside to take a break and relax. As soon as he got in the sky became cloudy and an awful thunderstorm began. Naotaka avoided getting struck by lightening thanks to the chief priest’s cat “Tama.” He realized that he just experienced the cause and effect (karma) of the Buddha and decided to rebuild the temple. To this day you can find Ii family graveyard which includes the tomb of Naosuke Ii on temple grounds.
Besides the cat figurines you will find many Maneki Neko scattered around the temple. The 2.5-meter-high three-storied pagoda has twelve sculptures of Zodiac Animals that go around it. On the spot of the zodiac sign representing the Mouse a cat is depicted with two mice sitting beside it instead. You will also find Ema boards on which visitors can write down their prayers. Many prayers are dedicated to the wealth of pet cats.
Once at the temple make sure to walk around the surrounding neighborhood. You will find such treats as Mahorodou Sougetsu cafe & sweets shop famous for it’s green soybean daifuku & imo yokan. Don’t miss out on the special red bean dorayaki branded with the beckoning cat: Maneki Nekodora.
address: 1-38-19 Miyasaka, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo Windsor Palace 103
Onne minute from the train station you will find “Penguin Pastry” a cake shop that sells a popular souvenir: bite-sized baked confectionery inspired by the shape of a cat bell.
address: 1-23-14 Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo