Gotokuji temple is famous all throughout Japan because it is believed to be the birthplace of the lucky cat, i.e. the waving cat or the beckoning cat, (Maneki Neko) that is said to encourage good fortune.
Perhaps one of the most widely-known symbols of the east is the lucky cat. This is a small figurine that holds one paw up in the air some are made with an arm that swings back and forth.
This waving motion is said to usher good luck into a home, or workplace, and is now recognized and used all over the world.
Unfortunately, many people often attribute the lucky cat to Chinese culture despite its concrete origins in Japan, specifically at the Gotokuji temple.
The reason for this is that before becoming popular in western countries, the lucky cat grew in popularity all throughout Vietnam and China.
Because of its origins at Gotokuji temple, you will see thousands of figurines and depictions when you visit the temple. In fact, you will find more lucky cats here than at any other temple in the world. In this article, we will tell you everything that you need to know about exploring Gotokuji temple in Tokyo.
The temple’s history
Although it is not the oldest temple in Tokyo, the Gotokuji temple still dates back rather far and was constructed in 1681 by the 5th shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, as a tribute to his mother.
One of the things that makes this temple so unique is that it has one of the oldest surviving temple pagodas.
For example, the oldest temple in Tokyo, Sensoji’s pagoda, along with others, was destroyed during the air raids in the Second World War and has since been rebuilt.
Another important part of the temple’s history is the burial grounds located on the site. Here you will find the graves of numerous famous Japanese persons. Some of these important figures include former prime ministers and Ōyama Masutatsu, a karate master.
The temple itself is located just outside of the main tourist areas, meaning that it is a short trip to visit the grounds. The easiest way to reach the temple from the city center is to ride the Odakyu train line and then take a short walk.
What is the meaning behind the lucky cat?
Although many people mistakenly believe that the lucky cat is waving, it is actually meant to be calling people towards it. There are a few variations of the origin story of the lucky cat, but perhaps the most popular of the tales is the following.
The connection between the lucky cat figurine and the temple dates back to the 17th century when it is said that a poor monk and his pet cat lived on the grounds.
It is said that the cat appeared to call the samurai by moving its paw in a beckoning motion. The samurai lord was then intrigued by the cat and moved closer to see what was happening, only for the tree that he was hiding under to be struck by a bolt of lightning and collapse.
It is believed that the samurai lord, then incredibly grateful and indebted to the cat for saving his life, became a temple patron and helped to rebuild the failing structure in tribute to the cat that saved his life and made it his family temple.
Nowadays you will see a large number of lucky cat figurines dotted throughout the temple as offerings to a god or kami and in a bid to wish good luck, fortune, and success upon themselves. These are all in reference to the story of the cat that beckoned and saved, the samurai lord from death.
Even on your way to the temple from the station, you will notice that cat faces and figurines adorn the area, making sure that you are aware of the temple’s presence, giving the area a cute and vibrant feeling, and wishing the inhabitants good fortune.
Because there are so many lucky cats displayed at the temple they are often arranged on shelves or verticle planes so that there is enough room to accommodate them all and to make sure that you do not accidentally stand on any of them!
You may even be able to spot a few hidden lucky cats all throughout the temple grounds, including on the roof of the pagoda, where the figure is carved alongside the zodiac figures.
The myriad of identical lucky cat figurines definitely makes quite a site and is a fantastic photo opportunity for those into photography as well as those who want to bring a little bit of luck into their lives.
Purchasing a lucky cat
In order to leave your lucky cat behind, either as an offering or for another symbolic meaning, you are welcome to bring your own. However, if you forget to bring your own there is a small shop located nearby that sells them to make sure that no person is made to go without a little bit of extra luck.
This little shop sells many different versions of the lucky cat so that you can find one that you like and that suits your style and budget.
Typically these lucky cats start from 300 Japanese yen for the smallest statue and increase in price and size up to roughly 5000 Japanese yen.
However, there is no need to buy the largest lucky cat for good luck as the size of the figurine is not said to be correlated to the amount of fortune that it will bring you.
You can choose to purchase and place whichever size figurine takes your fancy and suits your budget. Within the temple, everyone is able to get equal amounts of luck.
In addition to lucky cats, the store sells a number of other lucky trinkets and decorations and there is a separate shop that sells sweet treats such as pancakes with the image of the lucky cat on them.
Once the lucky cat has been placed it officially becomes property of the temple and removing any lucky cat figurine is strictly prohibited.
You are also not allowed to touch the cat figurines that are on display, although, of course, you may touch and place your own statue.
All of the lucky cats on offer to buy at the temple are the same figure: a white cat with red/orange details on the neck and ears, with a gold coin on its collar.
When can I visit the temple?
The temple is open daily from 6 am until 6 pm and the temple and its grounds are free of charge to enter, allowing everyone to enjoy them.
However, if you are looking for the best time to visit the temple then you should aim to visit it in January or February when the majority of offerings are made as it is Japanese New year.
However, there are still a large number of lucky cats present at the temple throughout the year as the temple is popular with both locals and tourists who wish to increase their good fortune and explore the beauty of the temple.