Visiting Gōtokuji Temple – Episode 6

It took until our fifth full day in Tokyo to finally get out to see a new sight. Until then we’d been hunkered down waiting for Typhoon Hagibis to pass, exploring our neighbourhood and making a return visit to Meiji Shrine. We originally planned to visit this spot the day after Hagibis but were not able to because the trains were all not up and running yet. That’s why we made our traditional visit to Meiji Shrine instead.

Episode 6:

Over the many trips we’ve been lucky enough to make to Japan we’ve managed to hit most of the common tourist spots in Tokyo. Some several times. On this trip we decided we would make the concerted effort to find some new spots to check out, trying to focus on sights or areas which are off the tourist beaten path. We found some fun and interesting ones on this trip and we document them all for you in this series, and today we visit our first one.

While Gōtokuji Temple is relatively small to some of the usual temples you’d have high on your first time to Tokyo must-see list, it has an incredible history. It’s claim to fame is it’s claim to be the birthplace of the Maneki Neko, or Beckoning Cat, luck charm. You’ve probably seen these luck charms in the West if you frequent Asian restaurants and shops as you’d often find one somewhere on the premises. Motorized ones were very popular, animating the beckoning paw back and forth.

It is believed that this luck charm originated at Gōtokuji back in the 1600s. Legend has it that the lord of the Hikone district was on his way to a hunt when we was suddenly caught in a severe thunderstorm. He took refuge under a large tree and as he waited for the storm to pass he noticed a cat at a near by temple raising it’s paw as if beckoning him over. Intrigued he went over to the cat and as he cleared the tree it was suddenly hit by lightening. He was invited into the temple for tea by the monk looking after the then modest temple. During tea the lord, so appreciative of the cat possibly saving his life, decided to become a patron of the temple and to make it’s cemetery his clans official burial place. The modest temple suddenly had funds to repair and enlarge, and a commemorative statue was created for the cat depicting it’s beckoning paw and the rest I suppose is history.

I never realized the significance of these maneki neko I’d see mainly in Chinese restaurants in the past. I thought as most Westerners likely would that it was a cat waving at me, welcoming me into the establishment. This misunderstanding of the significance comes from how us in the West perceive the placement of the paw. To us that is a wave, and if we were to beckon someone we would generally hold our hands lower with palms facing up while making the gesture. Whereas in many places in Asia beckoning is done as the maneki neko does. All those years these cats were not waving at me, they were beckoning me in, while providing the business owners good luck.

Gōtokuji Temple was a fun afternoon outing. Not only did we enjoy learning the story through the research we did online when discovering this temple, it was really neat to visit to see and feel the history. It was also a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. The grounds are beautiful and because this is off the beaten path it was very quiet. We enjoyed strolling the grounds being able to take in the serenity of the temple.

For more sights of Gōtokuji Temple and to learn about an amazing little cafe near by specializing in small batch Indian cuisine check out the accompanying episode.


There were several locations featured in this episode

  • Goda Cafe – An amazing little cafe near by Gōtokuji Temple which specializes in small batch Indian cuisine. This place is run by a very friendly Japanese man who speaks English very well and who seems to run the cafe all by himself.
  • Gōtokuji Temple – The birthplace of the famous maneki neko luck charm. A beautiful temple complex with a 3 storied pagoda, a bell tower and several halls spread out on meticulously manicured grounds flanked by a very large cemetery.
  • Gōtokuji Office – Found in the middle of the temple grounds we recommend stopping in to pickup your own maneki neko right from the source. You can also purchase the usual temple good luck charms here.

Thanks for watching/reading!

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