What To Know About Visiting Japan’s ‘Beckoning Cat’

As the subject of a well-known legend, the “beckoning cat” of the Gotokuji Temple has a significance that extends beyond its aesthetic appeal.

Beckoning Cats statue inside Gotokuji temple in Tokyo, Japan

Gotokuji, a Buddhist temple in the Setagaya neighborhood of Tokyo, is reputed to be the origin of the Maneki Neko. Having this “beckoning cat” figurine displayed in a bedroom or study is said to bring its owner prosperity and success. Due to its widespread popularity in both Chinese and Vietnamese communities, many people mistakenly attribute its invention to China.

But it’s possible to trace the origins of Maneki Neko back to Japan, and one of the most well-known myths about the cat’s history dates back to Gotojuki. As a result, big and small cats beckon visitors at Gotojuki more than at any other Japanese temple. Wood, stone, metal, and porcelain are just some materials used to create these lovely figurines, which also come in a rainbow of colors even though the classic color white continues to reign supreme.


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The History Of The Waving Cat Of Gotokuji

In the final years of Japan’s traditional government, known as the Edo period, a priest’s cat from Gotokuji Temple is said to have guided a medieval lord to safety from a storm. Maneki Neko statues have one paw raised because the cat waved inside the lord and his servants. While the storm raged outside, the lord and the priest had tea.

After that, he showed his appreciation by making Gotokuji Temple the final resting place for his noble family and donating rice and land. Hundreds of lucky cat statues are on display today near a statue of Kannon, the goddess of compassion. There are cats all over the main building and grounds, and cat-themed artwork decorates the streets outside the Temple.

Present-day temple goers often leave behind a Maneki Neko figurine as an offering in the hopes that the god or Buddha will grant their wishes and bestow prosperity upon them.

Where To Find Gotokuji Temple And What To Do There

Gotokuji is a tranquil temple located on the outskirts of Tokyo that is perfect for cat lovers interested in Japanese culture and history. It is a 20-minute drive from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic equestrian venue and is walkable from the Olympic Stadium. The staff at Gotokuji Temple is also warm and welcoming. Even if a language barrier exists, English speakers can learn the story of Fortune-Inviting Kannon and appreciate their visit to this magnificent Temple.

For sale inside the Temple are omikuji (Japanese fortunes) and cat figurines of varying sizes. The staff can help those who cannot read Japanese by revealing whether they have been blessed or cursed. If it’s worthwhile, they get to keep it. If not, they can leave the bad luck tied to the tree branch outside the lobby. Typical souvenirs for tourists to Gotokuji, cat figurines are left at the Temple after their owners make a wish or pray for good fortune. One alternative is to bring the cat figurine home and keep it there until the desire or prayer comes to pass. Afterward, go back to Gotokuji and leave the cat statue as an offering.

Most miniature cat figurines in the store cost around 300 yen, whereas the largest, a life-size statue, costs around 5,000 yen. However, it is optional to spend a significant amount of money on a Maneki Neko, as the size of the figure has no bearing on the amount of good fortune it brings. Tourists can also pick up a wooden ema plaque in the same shop as the cat figurines and omikuji to record their best wishes and prayers. Visitors hang these ema boards on the wall, hoping their wishes will come true.

There is a tiny cemetery at the back of the temple grounds where one can find a little bit of history. Cemeteries in Japan are a fascinating but little-known aspect of the country’s culture, and visiting one can be a challenge for foreign visitors because of the prevalence of locks. However, the Ii clan, the family that gave the Temple its fortune, is said to rest in the Gotokuji Temple cemetery. It is still a pleasant place to visit, even if one cannot read the gravestones.

In addition, Gotokuji Temple has beautiful grounds with serene gardens and stunning illustrations of traditional Japanese architecture.

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Hours Of Operation And Admission Fees

The hours of operation for Gotokuji Temple are from late March to mid-September, 6 am to 6 pm, and from late September to mid-March, 6 am to 5 pm. From 8 am to 4:30 pm, visitors can find the staff at the Temple (closed at 5 pm in the summertime.)

Visits to Gotokuji do not cost anything. The best time to visit the Temple to see the most Maneki Neko is in January or February when most offerings are made in celebration of the Japanese New Year.

  • Nearest Station: Miyanosaka Station on the Tokyo Metro Setagaya Line is a short 5-minute walk away. Visitors can also reach this location in 15 minutes on foot from the Odakyu line’s Gotokuji station.
  • Address: Gotokuji 2-24-7, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo, 154-0021.
  • Contact: +81-3-3426-1437