FUKUI – Nicknamed “the temple of cats,” Gotanjoji in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, continues to draw thousands of tourists every year after more than a decade of caring for abandoned cats.
Since the monks at the Soto Zen temple took in the first four stray cats 12 years ago, Gotanjoji has become known as a place where people can easily make contact with felines. Now, with 52 cats at the temple, it attracts about 10,000 visitors each year.
The idea of creating a cat shelter on the temple grounds was initiated by head priest and cat lover Koshu Itabashi, 87, who built Gotanjoji in 2002.
Soon after establishing the temple, Itabashi, a former chief abbot at the Sotoshu Daihonzan Sojiji of the Soto Zen School in Yokohama, took in and provided a refuge for stray kittens.
About 30 monks who came to Gotanjoji from different places around Japan are taking care of the cats. Medical treatment and vaccinations are covered by contributions to the temple.
Tourists at Gotanjoji are greeted with a sign that says “Beware of Cats.” Strolling through the grounds, you might see cats sleeping, wandering around or even approaching and endearing themselves to visitors.
“You can tell from their expressions that these cats are relaxed and are enjoying life here,” said Ryota Ikeda, a 25-year-old photographer from Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, during a recent visit.
The temple’s vice chief priest, 39-year-old Shojun Inawashiro, said that although the number has decreased in recent years, unwanted kittens are still being brought to Gotanjoji.
Starting a couple of years ago, the monks started looking for new owners via social media. Last year alone, 47 cats found new home, Inawashiro said.
“I believe they’ve come here for a reason,” he said. “I’d like this temple to help people and cats make a connection, and we’re thinking about working with governmental or other organizations to match them with new owners.”