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Tokyo temple’s beckoning cats keep visitors purring in

by

Staff Photographer

A five-minute walk from Miyanosaka Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line, Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward offers a fun sight for visitors.

By a path leading to the main temple sit a huge number of bright white cat figures placed around a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Many tourists visit just to take photos.

These are maneki neko, beckoning cats, figures that are believed to bring good luck and are said to have originated at the temple.

Legend has it that during the Edo Period, a chief priest at the temple, had a cat he cared for very much. One day, feudal lord Ii Naotaka passed by with his servants and saw the cat, which appeared to be waving at him to come inside.

Curious, they entered and were greeted by the priest. As the priest served them tea and offered a sermon, a thunderstorm broke outside.

Grateful to the cat and the priest, Ii later donated rice crops and land to the then-poor temple, elevating it to prosperity. The temple became a designated cemetery for the Ii family, whose members served in central roles in the Tokugawa shogunate.

Today, the cats are a symbol of the area. Many maneki neko goods are available in local shops, and feline figures dotted around the neighborhood make it a lovely place to walk.

<em>Maneki neko</em> (beckoning cat) figures are seen at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on March 12.
Maneki neko cat ornaments of different sizes are placed at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
Maneki neko cat ornaments are arranged at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
Maneki neko cat ornaments of different sizes are placed at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
Maneki neko cat ornaments are arranged at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
Maneki neko cat ornaments are arranged at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on March 12. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
French tourist Camille Peiret, 19, visits Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
French tourist Camille Peiret, 19, visits Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on March 12 to see the maneki neko (beckoning cat) figures. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
‘Arigato’ (‘thank you’) is written in the eyes of a maneki neko (beckoning cat) figure displayed at Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on March 12. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
Wooden prayer tablets decorated with images of a beckoning cat and a monkey, this year
Wooden prayer tablets decorated with images of a beckoning cat and a monkey, this year’s Chinese zodiac symbol, are displayed at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on March 12. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
Cookies and Japanese confectionery shaped like maneki neko (beckoning cat) figures are sold at a shop on March 12 in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.
Cookies and Japanese confectionery shaped like maneki neko (beckoning cat) figures are sold at a shop on March 12 in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. | YOSHIAKI MIURA
A maneki neko (beckoning cat) figure is displayed in the window of a store near Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo
A maneki neko (beckoning cat) figure is displayed in the window of a store near Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on March 12. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

 

This section, appearing in the first week of each month, explores in photographs neighborhoods of interest.