Gotokuji temple - home of Japan's beckoning cats

Gotokuji Temple is in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.  It is small, so it usually wouldn’t attract much attention.  But, there is something special about it.  Japan’s beckoning cats call it home.  They draw a lot of people who come to take their photos. Many also come to get some of their luck. We’ll just take their pictures.

Do you know the beckoning cats? You’ll find them all over Japan.  In Japanese, they are called Maneki Neko.  They are at restaurants, shops, and many other places.  Sometimes, they have one paw raised. Other times both.  The felines bring luck, customers, and money.

It takes a little effort to find them in Setagayas’ backstreets.  But, it is worthwhile.  The temple is beautiful and even has a pagoda. There are many trees too providing shade. It is a lovely place.  And there is a historic cemetery.

Gotokuji Temple main hall
Gotokuji's main hall.

Some people might be pretty surprised on their first visit. The area for the cats is small. They are next to one of the temple halls, in an area about five meters in length and two meters wide. The statues are on the ground, on other statues, on shelves, and in window frames! They are everywhere.

The Maneki Neko are all different sizes, some are pretty large, but many are tiny. They all have one thing in common – they are adorable! That cuteness might make you want to take one home.

You can buy them at the temple’s administration building. They come in different sizes and cost between 300 and 5000 yen. The cheaper ones are tiny, only a couple of centimeters high. But, the 5000 yen ones are large.

The cats might even be able to help you fulfill your dreams too! Write your wish on the back of the one you buy and leave it with the other cats. Many people do that.

Gotokuji 3 storey pagoda
The pagoda.

A brief history of Gotokuji Temple

Once, another temple, Kotokuin, stood on the site. It was a protector temple of Edo when the daimyo for Hikone province, Naotaka Ii, had a residence in Setagaya. Upon his death, the name changed to Gotokuji.

And the legend of the cats? One story says that while Naotaka was hunting with his falcons. One day a sudden and very violent storm fell upon him. A cat (neko) appeared from a nearby house and seemed to beckon (maneku) to him to enter the grounds. With no other options, he did precisely that and was saved. And that is how the term, Maneki Neko, came into being.

What can you photograph at the temple?

  • The grave of Naosuke Ii. Ii was a daimyo and occupied the office of Tairo (Great Elder) of the Tokugawa government. He was assassinated at the Imperial Palace‘s Sakuradamon (Sakurada gate).
  • Maneki Neko (the cats are perfect for Instagram shots).
  • Omikuji (this is one of few places I’ve seen them tied to trees and not a rack).
  • A three-story pagoda.
  • Temple buildings and Buddhist imagery.

Photography tips

It’s typical outdoor photography, nothing complicated. But the cats are between a building and some trees, so they’ll be in deep shade in the morning. As the sun rises in the day, that shade will recede, and you’ll have a sliver of light to use. Then the afternoon will be the opposite. The light fades as the hours go by and darkness returns.

How many Beckoning Cats are there?

At last count, there were about 2000.

Other photo spots near Gotokuji Temple

Gotokuji Temple details

See the temple opening hours and location on the official website.

Wrapping up

I like Gotokuji Temple a lot. The architecture of the main hall is beautiful, and the cats are something different. It also has that piece of Tokyo history with the Ii family graves.

If you like this type of temple, there are two others I would recommend. One of them is Toyokawa Inari Betsuin which has a strong fox theme! The other is Imado shrine which also claims to be the home to the Maneki Neko!

To learn more about the cats, you can read about them on Wikipedia. You’ll find it interesting. It’s easy to understand why the felines are so beloved.

Please note:  As of June 2022, the display area for the cats is closed off and undergoing construction work. You can still see the dolls nearby. Hopefully, everything will be back to normal soon.

Gotokuji shrine old gate
The old gate to Gotokuji.

To learn more about places mentioned in this article, look at:

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