You’ve probably seen the thousands of cat statues at this Tokyo temple in photos, but seeing in person is believing.
Come hither, says the cat, and everyone follows its beckoning call. It’s luring them to Gotoku-ji Temple, in the southwestern corner of Tokyo, which is covered in thousands of cat statues.
The distinctive white felines with one inviting paw raised, are called maneki neko (lucky cat) in Japanese. They can be found in various shapes and sizes, lined up in neat rows, and perched in the temple’s crevices.
Despite Gotoku-ji’s popularity and Instagram aesthetic, a visit here can actually be very quiet and peaceful. This may be due to the temple’s location in Setagaya ward, which is a slight trek outside central Tokyo.
The humble neighborhood has not yet been overrun with tourists, making a visit here a nice escape from the chaos of hotspots like Asakusa.
Gotoku-ji and the lucky cat
If you’re like us, you may be wondering, but why though? In Japan, there’s a reason for everything.
The story goes, back in the Edo period, a feudal lord passed by the temple when a cat beckoned him to come inside. Soon after, a tumultuous thunderstorm came with unrelenting rain pelting down from the sky. The cat had protected him from the storm by guiding him to the temple.
He later claimed Gotoku-ji as his family temple, generously donating funds to rebuild and tend to its upkeep throughout the years. This is the legendary origin story of the maneki neko which you can undoubtedly find in souvenir shops all over Japan.
We don’t know what kind of drugs he was on that caused him to hallucinate this guardian cat, but we’re thankful this quirky temple was the outcome.
Since then, people began offering the statues at Gotoku-ji to ask for help from the lucky cat, and to thank it when their wishes came true.
The temple itself is a bit small, but the ancient three-storied pagoda—and of course cats—will definitely add a bit of character to your Japan travels.