Home » Gotokuji Temple – home of Japan’s beckoning cats

Gotokuji Temple – home of Japan’s beckoning cats

Gotokuji Temple is a small temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.  It is different from temples and shrines like Sensoji, Zojoji, and Meiji Jingu.  Those attract lots of tourists.  This one doesn’t.  Many who go only visit family member graves in the cemetery.  Some go for the beckoning cats.

beckoning cats and Buddhist statue

It takes a little effort to find the temple in Setagayas’ backstreets.  But, it is worthwhile.  There is a beautiful temple, a pagoda, and lots of trees.  It is a lovely place.  And there is a historic cemetery.  The cats are the main attraction, though.

road to Gotokuji gate

I have always associated beckoning cats with 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.  Their home is Gotokuji, a temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward.


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.  There are about 2000 of them.

maneki neko in box

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. 

maneki neko at Gotokuji temple

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 temple main hall

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.

Gotokuji Temple Pagoda

What is there to 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)
  • 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 afternoon will be the opposite.  The light will fade as the hours go by and the darkness returns.

Gotokuji temple roof

Where is Gotokuji Temple?

There are two ways to get to Gotokuji:

  1. Use the Odakyu line.  Get off at Gotokuji Station and walk about 15 minutes to the temple.  I don’t recommend this way as the route isn’t straightforward. 
  2. Use the Keio Line.  Take a local or rapid train from Shinjuku to Shimo-Takaido station.  Change to the Tokyu Setagaya (tram) line and go to Miyanosaka station.  The walk to the temple will be about ten minutes.

Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

The administration building is open from 8 am until 4:30 pm ( 5 pm in summer), while the temple grounds are open from 6 am to 6 pm.

Admission costs

None

omikuji on tree

Other photo spots near Gotokuji Temple

  • Carrot Tower (business tower with an excellent observation floor)
  • Setagaya Hachimangu Shrine

Wrapping up

I like Gotokuji 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 Tokyo Betsuin which has a strong fox theme!  The other is Imado shrine which also claims to be the home to the Maneki Neko!

beckoning cats behind trees

Gotokuji has a website you can see here. To learn more about the Maneki Neko, you can read about them on Wikipedia. You’ll find it very interesting. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

1 thought on “Gotokuji Temple – home of Japan’s beckoning cats”

  1. Pingback: Shitmachi Museum tells the old Tokyo story - Tokyo in Pics

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top