Gotokuji Temple in the peak of autumn

by - Thursday, February 22, 2024

Sanju-no-to (3 storied pagoda)  which enshrines statues of Shakanyorai, Kasho-sonzya, Anan-sonzya and Manekineko-kannon

Today, February 22 is National Cat Day Japan or Neko no Hi (猫の日), a day fittingly chosen as 2-22 sounds like nyan nyan nyan in Japanese or  meow, meow, meow for the rest of us. Japan is home to the most cat loving culture in the world with felines being an integral part of the annals of Japanese history  Today I take you to Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya, a special ward in the Tokyo metropolis. 

Late November last year, me and best travel buddy Cathy explored Tokyo in the peak of its autumnal beauty. Gotokuji Temple is a must-visit cultural landmark to view and enjoy the serene, fiery beauty of momiji (Japanese maple leaves) and make a wish at the temple that enshrines the manekineko or the lucky cat that brings good fortune. We did not arrive on time to make a wish at the temple since it took us quite a while to walk through the charmingly offbeat Setagaya neighborhood. We sauntered leisurely through the narrow streets distracted and hypnotized by every shop that had a waving manekineko. Quaint bakery and cake shops, coffee stalls, whimsical gift shops, as well as hole in the wall ramen joints line the streets en route to the temple. Once in a while, the sound of bicycle bells from a mamachari Japanese bike or the rumbling of train tracks from a nearby distance creates an ASMR soundscape that feels very comforting to a jaded urban soul. The neighborhood streets leading to the temple are typically narrow allowing only foot, bicycle or small car traffic. Parallel to the streets runs the Tokyu-Setagaya tram line, a delightful sight reminiscent of an anime suburban daydream. 

Google Maps tells you Gotokuji Temple is about a 13 minute walk from Gotokuji Station. In reality, it's a 30-45 minute walk if you want to soak in the sights or stop for a manekineko-themed baby castella cake and hot/iced matcha latte at Rarasand. Of course, you'd want to stop for some roasted sweet potatoes at Baked Sweet Potato Fuji along the way.

Towering pine trees rustle in the wind amidst the sound of birdsong as one approaches the stone gate leading to the main temple gate. I expected to see those mystical temple cats loitering near the gate but instead we saw a native Japanese dog (probably a Shikoku) guarding the gates.

It was a  delightfully windy, chilly day when we visited Gotokuji Temple. Tall maple trees in deepening shades of red  glistened in the sunlight, blanketing the temple grounds in soft, filtered light. Melodious waves of crisp autumn breeze caressed the trees, sending maple leaves fluttering through the air, wistfully resting on the pinecone adorned graves of Edo Period feudal lords. 

One feels a sense of peace walking around the temple grounds. Each temple, shrine or hall is framed by trees changing colors in the four seasons. Perhaps the most striking area of Gotokuji Temple is the Shofuku-den where you can see an overwhelming number of Manekineko dolls in all sizes. The lucky cats are left by visitors after offering prayers for good luck and prosperity, family happiness, health and healing as well as blessings for pet or companion animals. Manekineko souvenirs and amulets are available to buy at the temple office from 8am to 3 pm. Too bad we didn't get to buy any as the temple shop closes at 12nn. However, we got some manekineko pins at  the Japanese castella cake shop on the way home.

Unfortunately, we were not able to tour the temple grounds in its entirety due to time constraints hence no sighting of any real, live temple cat. I would have loved to see one! Gotokuji temple cats are considered sacred and therefore cannot be adopted. Maybe in my next visit to the lovely Setagaya neighborhood, I might chance upon seeing one. Gotokuji Temple is worth visiting over and over again in all the four seasons. 

On this note, I say Happy National Cat Day!  May Manekineko luck be with us!


May Manekineko bring you good fortune and luck! Happy National Cat Day!

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