If you have any interest in Japan, you would probably recognize the maneki neko if you saw it. The maneki neko is that adorable cat with the one arm raised, waving. This cat is also referred to as the “beckoning cat.” This cat has been famous in Japan for generations and it is thought to bring good luck and great fortune. Many shops in Japan place this cat in their window hoping that it will bring them customers and wealth.
Many locations claim to be the origin place of the maneki neko, but one of the most famous is the Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo. The Gotokuji Temple is famous for containing the grave of Sir Ii Naosuke, the chief Minister of the Tokugawa Government in the late Edo Period. However, its reputation for creating the maneki neko character is what brings it the most discussion.
The story of the maneki neko takes place a long time ago at the same site the temple is at now. Back then, the temple was merely a broken-down hut and was run by a single Monk. The Monk made nearly no income at all and was struggling to live off the spare change he received as donations. The Monk owned a cat, and despite the meager amount of food he had to eat, he would share it with the cat. One day, the Monk looked at the cat and said, “If you are grateful to me, bring some fortune to the temple.”
Many months later, the Monk heard the gates to the temple creaking open. The Monk looked up to see five or six samurai warriors entering the grounds. The samurai warriors said that they were headed home from hawk-hunting when they came upon the gate. They told the Monk that there was a cat sitting in the road, staring them right in the eyes. The cat raised one arm and began to wave at them. The samurai said that they were so perplexed by the situation that they decided to follow the cat inside. The warriors then asked if they could stay and rest. The Monk, of course, obliged.
That evening, it began to storm heavily. The Monk made the samurai tea and preached to them the Sanzei-inga-no-hou (the past, present, and future reasoning sermons). The samurai were overjoyed by the sermons and said that they must convert to the temple immediately. One of the samurai exclaimed, “My name is Naotaka Ii. I am the king of Hikone, Koshu Prefecture. Due to your cats waving, we were able to hear your preaching. This has opened our eyes and seems to be the start of something new. This must be the Buddha’s will.”
Soon after the warriors returned home, the Monk received huge rice fields and crop lands from Naotaka Ii as a donation to help the temple grow. Thanks to the waving cat, great fortune was brought upon the Gotokuji Temple.
Because of this story, the Gotokuji Temple is now thought of as “the cat temple.” The temple has a huge display of maneki neko statues of all sizes crowded around a Siddhartha statue. There are over one thousand cat statues at the temple, and this gains the temple a lot of attention.
Seeing the cat statues was very exciting and extremely cute. But beyond just the cat statues, the Gotokuji Temple is absolutely gorgeous. The grounds are gigantic and there are several beautiful buildings on the property. There are hundreds of luscious trees hanging above the grounds, the Ii Clan cemetery, and an enormous pagoda piercing the sky.
The Gotokuji Temple is in the middle of a neighborhood-area and can easily be missed. While the temple is definitely out of the way, it is certainly worth the visit. Whether you go for the religion or the cats, you should go.
|The Odakyū Odawara Line at Gotokuji
From Haneda Airport: Take the Keikyu-Kuko Line bound for Inzaimakinohara from the International Terminal. Get off 15 minutes later at Shinagawa Station. Take the Yamanote Line bound for Shibuya/Shinjuku on Platform 2. 19 minutes later (8 stops) get off at Shinjuku Station. Take the Odakyu Line bound for Hon-Atsugi for 15 minutes (9 stops). Get off at Gotokuji Station. Walk 7 minutes to the temple.
From Narita Airport: Take the Skyliner 10 bound for Keisei-Ueno from the Airport Terminal 2 Station. Get off 36 minutes later at Nippori Station. Take the Yamanote Line bound for Ikebukuro/Shinjuku on Platform 11. Get off after 21 minutes (10 stops) at the Shinjuku Station. Take the Odakyu Line bound for Hon-Atsugi for 15 minutes (9 stops). Get off at Gotokuji Station. Walk 7 minutes to the temple.