Today we are going to visit the famous Gotokuji Temple, located in the western suburbs of Tokyo, and more specifically in the Setagaya district. This Buddhist temple is dedicated to cats, very numerous in the Japanese archipelago, and is a great stopover in the bustling Tokyo.
Cats have their day in Japan on February 22 and are the symbol of fortune and prosperity in the land of the rising sun. You’ll find them all over Tokyo and the country, patiently waiting for a piece of fish outside an izakaya, or on the doorstep of a house, taking a nap.
Setagaya Ward is very easily accessible by metro from central Tokyo. It will only take you about 15 minutes to reach Gotokuji Station, on the Odakyu Line, from Shinjuku or Shibuya Ward. Setagaya is a residential area, but it is good to stroll there on a nice spring or autumn day, enjoying the local life and the calm that reigns there.
The Gotokuji Temple is a complex comprising several traditional wooden buildings and a cemetery. Rather far from the usual tourist centers, a stroll through this complex will make you forget for an hour or two the agitation of other parts of the capital. Here, no buses pouring out streams of tourists, but only Tokyoites who come to pray for their good fortune.
You can observe a very pretty traditional 3-story pagoda, with many decorative elements, including cats. Around the wooden buildings, many maple trees color the park in November. If you decide to go there in the spring, you can take pics of cherry blossoms. Choose your day well to visit the complex, everything is situated outdoors and there is nothing to shelter you. On a sunny day, the momiji of the park are amazing.
But the central element of the temple is these hundreds of cat figurines, the Maneki-Neko or literally “the cat who invites” with his paw raised. Next to each other, they form a sea of red and white cats, conducive to meditation, prayer, or even photography. You can buy your cat statuette at the shop, just near the temple, and drop it off next to the others little plaster cats. Feel this special atmosphere, that’s why this Gotokuji temple is so special.
Also take a tour of the cemetery, especially if you’ve never seen a Japanese cemetery. Quite different from our European cemeteries, they are well maintained and pleasant to walk through. Finally, rather than leaving the Setagaya district as soon as the tour of the complex is completed, I can only advise you to reach Kinuta Park for a picnic under the cherry blossoms. A magical and quieter moment than in the crowded parks of Yoyogi or Gyoen. The banks of the Tamagawa River are also popular for locals during spring and autumn, when the weather is sunny.
In the end, this Gotokuji temple allows you to walk around a suburb of Tokyo, far from the tourist masses and the urban frenzy. Take the time to find out another side of old Edo, quieter thanks to the relaxed local life. This temple dedicated to cats, Kinuta Park, local cafes and other second-hand shops are more than enough to aston you for a full day. So don’t miss the opportunity to experience a “local” and “kawaii” Tokyo.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to leave your comments, and if you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. In the meantime, and if you like Japan and photography, you can follow me on Instagram @hugoatokyo