Updated on: 18 July, 2021
When I came across the Gotokuji (豪 徳 寺) temple in Tokyo on my trip through Japan , it was all over me. This is where the waving cat – also called the lucky cat or Maneki Neko – is said to have its origin. As a cat lover and Maneki Neko collector, I know I have to go there. Whether it is worth? I’ll tell you now. Including all the tips for your visit to Gotokuji – the cat temple, where the happiness of the waving cat originates.
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On the way to Gotokuji
The Gotokuji (豪 徳 寺) Temple is not exactly in the center of Tokyo, but a bit outside in Setagaya. So cat lovers have to think twice about whether they want to use their vacation time for this visit. With arrival and departure, the visit quickly turns into a half-day program. In my research, I come across contributions that say: don’t do it, it’s not worth it. But I can’t resist and I’m on my way anyway. My love and passion for the collectible figurines of the waving cat is too big. Anyone who has read my article in Shanghai will perhaps remember that I also bought a waving cat as a souvenir in China.
I take the Odakyu or Chiodya line to Gotokuji station. As soon as I leave the train station, I find myself on a scavenger hunt from Maneki Neko to Maneki Neko. Right at the train station I meet the first waving cat. A figure who receives visitors at the exit and says: this is where the waving cat is at home.
It doesn’t stay with this one. At first the path is lined with lucky cats. There are those who stand in the windows or on the counters of shops. Or those that were painted on house walls. Some just sit in the front yard and get the traveler in the mood for their upcoming temple visit. Especially at the beginning of my walk, which takes around a quarter of an hour, I come across a lot of Maneki Nekos.
Eventually the shops get less and I walk through a residential area. I pass small row houses where you can assume that the cars were bought according to the size of the parking spaces. They fit so perfectly on the pitches. A child with training wheels passes my way and finally a friendly greeting police patrol, whose car is almost as wide as the entire street. No wonder so many use local public transport here. When I watch a family of hairdressers eagerly say goodbye to a customer, I can’t help but grin. It is bowed several times and it does not stop at a pious farewell wish called out. I am impressed by the culture of the Japanese.
With all the hustle and bustle that makes a big city like Tokyo, this walk from the train station to the Katzentempel is definitely one of the quietest and most relaxing moments of my trip to Japan. Because google maps incorrectly marks the entrance to the temple, it actually goes a little longer than it should. I walk past a cemetery and virtually circle the temple complex until I finally find an entrance in a small side gate of Gotokuji.
Gotukuji: History of the Waving Cat
When you take your first steps on the temple grounds, the temple is no different from the many other temples and shrines in Japan. Only when you look at the wishing tablets (Ena) of this temple does it become clear that cats really play the main role here. Maneki Neko are depicted everywhere and I read from visitors and their cats on the tablets, which were often labeled in Asian, but also occasionally in English. So I’m not the only cat lady who enthusiastically set out on the trail of this legend.
But before we get to the temple highlight: What does the legend actually say? As is the case with legends, there are several stories about the origins of the Maneki Neko worship. Two versions of the story are also told about this temple.
Both play in the 17th century and are considered to be the origin of the waving cat:
First, I read that the temple owner had a white cat but could not afford food for it. He had to send her away, but she stayed near the temple. Shortly afterwards, a samurai and his servant cross the path of the cat. She waves her arm and the samurai interprets the gesture correctly: he flees from the tree under which he was just about to seek rest in the direction of the cat. As soon as it moves away from the tree, lightning strikes it. The man is infinitely grateful to the cat for his salvation. He takes her to the next temple, the very one where she was no longer allowed to stay because of poverty. He gives the temple plenty of presents so that it, the cat and its owner will not lack anything from now on. When the cat dies, a statue of a waving cat is erected in her honor. The story spreads quickly. As a result, the waving lucky cat statues spread. Everywhere people put up a waving cat in their homes to be lucky too.
Another version tells of the poor priest sharing his food with the cat and believing that it would bring good luck to the temple. One day when the cat was cleaning itself in front of the temple, a ruler came with his samurai and concluded from its cleaning that it was waving to him. So he approached and decided to stop there. It started raining. Because the ruler did not get wet, he was so grateful that he generously presented the temple with gifts. With the death of the cat, a shrine was built and the worship of Maneki Neko began.
Hundreds of waving cats: Where every porcelain figurine means luck
Those who visit the temple will find countless lucky cats. Hundreds of porcelain waving cats stand in one area of the temple grounds. In between is a relief that shows Kannon, one of the most popular goddesses in the Japanese Buddhist pantheon, who stands for happiness and compassion. Cats are also revered in this religion as the rebirth of the goddess Kannon.
Some waving cats are a bit dirty, others still look brand new. If you want to display your own Maneki Neko, you have to search a lot to find a place for it. The area on which the cats are worshiped is relatively small in relation to the temple area. The waving cats stand on two sides. In between there is a narrow corridor. There is really not much more to see.
It is understandable that some visitors say that the journey is not worthwhile. But if you like lucky cat figures and enjoy the story or even know it, you will be happy to get to know the place where it originated. It is always a subjective question as to why one goes on a journey. For me, a good story is a good reason to go that extra mile.
If you are wondering why there are hundreds of waving cats made of porcelain here, you can also choose from two variants: One says that visitors buy a figurine when they visit the Gotokuji (豪 徳 寺) cat temple and set it up in order to be lucky in the future . I read elsewhere that if you were very lucky with something, you buy a waving cat out of gratitude and set it up.
Whether luck still follows or was already there, I am glad that I didn’t knock any of the porcelain figurines over. Anyone who is on the move with a backpack and a little clumsiness can quickly make the cats wobble and maybe even fall. When I try to take a picture of myself and the cats, I clink glasses so clumsily that I hear several cats clatter.
I am very happy that none of them falls over and then I look for the distance. Even if I’m not sure whether I should believe that putting up a waving cat really brings luck. So after the destruction of the porcelain figurine I would probably convince myself that this would definitely bring me bad luck.
Visit the souvenir shop in the cat temple
When visiting the temple, you should definitely pay attention to the opening times of the shop. I even postponed an earlier planned visit to go shopping in the shop. The following awaits you here:
Beckoning cats in different sizes
If you want to thank you for luck or simply want to take a cat with you in the same look as it is in the temple hundreds of times, you can buy a lucky cat in the souvenir shop of the Gotokuji temple. These waving cats are available in different sizes and at different prices. The smallest Maneki Neko starts at 300 yen, the largest waving cat costs 3,500 yen. What is noticeable about these waving cats is that they do not carry any saying or coins with them. In contrast to many Maneki Nekos, the cats here do not give their owner luck directly, but the opportunity to be lucky. The look of the waving cat sold here is very similar to a real cat, the most relevant feature is its raised arm. What the owner makes of the possibility of happiness is up to him. Like the samurai.
Wooden wish tablets with, and for cats
In addition, visitors can buy the small wooden tablets (Enas) in the shop, label them with a wish and hang them on the wall with the other wishes. What you write on such an Ena is up to the buyer. As mentioned above, it is noticeable that many wishes that hang in the Gotokuji Temple concern the life and well-being of their own domestic cats. In addition, the Gotokuji’s wooden tablets naturally also show cats. An Ena costs 800 yen.
There are also small wish lists that you can buy. But that is certainly more interesting for the Japanese visitors. These cost 100 yen.
Tip: I’ve been asked several times for a pen. Either because someone wanted to leave a dedication for his cat, which he left there, or for the tablets. So it’s better to pack a pen or similar pen when you visit.
Is the Gotokuji Temple worth visiting?
Besides the worship corner, the temple actually looks like any other. I take a few more photos of the site and take the opportunity that it is not as crowded here as it is with the most famous temples and shrines in the city. Those who come in summer will surely appreciate the many trees under which one can take shelter from the heat. After about an hour I leave this legendary place again. I cannot say whether the visit is worthwhile. I thought it was great and would go back anytime.
Tip: If you want to visit a cemetery on your trip through Japan, you can combine that with a visit to the temple. From the cat collection you can see graves in the background. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time for that.
Getting there: Gotokuji train station on the Odakyu or Chiodya line. Back, google maps sent me to another station, where the way took longer, which is why you should only be guided back to the station on foot in the first step. It is a 15 to 20 minute walk to the temple from the stations.
Gotokuji Temple entrance fee:
The Gotokuji Temple entrance fee is, absolutely free
Hours of Operation: The temple is open from 6am until dark However, the souvenir shop is only open from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., as buying a souvenir can be a nice souvenir, it is advisable to take this time into account.
Address: Attention google Maps does not control the correct entrance of the temple if you are looking for the temple. Better to use the keyword Gotokuji Gate to find your way (2 Chome-19-15 Gōtokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tōkyō-to 154-0021, Japan).