Have you heard of “maneki neko”? You may know it in English as the lucky, beckoning or good fortune cat. Maneki neko is commonly represented as a white and orange Japanese bobtail holding a gold coin in one paw and waving at visitors with his other paw raised which can be found at Gotokuji Temple in Japan.
Maneki neko figurines are commonly found in the entrances of shops, restaurants and other businesses throughout Asia. They are believed to bring good luck and wealth to their owner.
During a recent stay in Tokyo, I was excited to learn the temple where the real lucky cat is said to have lived in the 16th century was just a short train ride away. It’s called Gotokuji temple and can be found in the quiet suburb of Setagaya. Gotokuji station is a 30 minute train journey from central Shinjuku.
On the short walk from the station to the temple, you’ll notice that the streets are full of cat-themed art. Murals adorn the walls and there’s no shortage of shops selling kitty souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
The temple itself is extremely peaceful. When we visited in late Summer, the only sound was the chirping of cicadas and slight rustle of tree leaves in the wind. If you listen, you may just hear the tinkling of the golden bell on the lucky cat’s collar.
While porcelain cat statues can be found all around the temple and grounds, the main tourist attraction is a display centering around a statue of Kannon – the goddess of mercy.
The wooden shelves bend under the weight of hundreds – if not thousands – of dazzlingly white maneki nekos. They’re all identical but of varying size. Surely this must be the luckiest spot in the world!
Legend says that during the historical Edo period, a wealthy lord was stranded in a dangerous thunderstorm near Gotokuji temple. He was invited to shelter by the priest’s cat who apparently waved him inside. Moments later, the spot where the lord had been standing was hit by lightning!
The lord stayed at the temple enjoying tea with the priest, while the cat drank from his water bowl. Feeling that he owed his life to the two, the lord made a huge donation of land to the temple and designated it as the burial ground for his prestigious family. When the cat passed away, the first porcelain figure was created in his honor.
At the end of their visit, many worshippers leave a wish on one of the ema (prayer boards) which are decorated with images of the famous white cat. In the Shinto religion, it’s believed that the spirits will receive and choose to grant some of these desires.
Whether you believe the story or not, Gotokuji temple is a must see spot for cat lovers visiting Tokyo. Unlike many of the more popular temples and shrines in the city, Gotokuji is a tranquil oasis where you can relax and escape from it all.
Author bio: Annie Cooper blogs at catobsessed.com. She lives in Australia with her husband and two very fluffy felines. Apart from cats, Anne loves traveling, DIYing and all things cute.