Cats seemingly play a very important role in Japanese lives. Hello Kitty is a hugely popular brand and then there’s also the station master cat, numerous cat cafes, cat island and super-lucky cats are often seen outside restaurants and shops beckoning (not waving good-bye as many tourists think!) customers to enter the establishment.
Time Out Tokyo often produce guides to different parts of the capital city (and beyond) and I usually make a point of picking them up. Many of their top recommendations are of minimal interest but there’s often a few places I’ve not heard of and earlier this year I read about a cat temple in their ‘88 Things To Do In Tokyo‘ guide. Music to my ears as I’m always on the look out for interesting, quirky temples and shrines and only last year did I write a feature about ‘Alternative Temples And Shrines In Tokyo‘
Personally, I’ve never had too much time for cats as, when I was younger, I was allergic to them but that seems to have worn off a bit in recent years and I even managed to stay at my friends house in Sydney a few years back even though she and her husband owned one. Allergy or not, I knew my body condition wouldn’t be affected by a visit to this temple other than a bit of tiredness due to cycling there from Shibuya when I recently had a couple of hours free time.
At first glance this vast temple complex seems a fairly normal-looking one featuring all the usual temple-like features and many tourists are initially bemused at the lack of cats. That included me too on my first visit a few months back when I was so pushed for time once I got there that I just didn’t have a chance to explore the temple complex in search for them as they were not obviously apparent.
Venture over to the far corner though and you’ll start to see some cat-decorated ema (wood blocks) which are always common at such places for prayer requests.
Just beyond them is a temple building and next to that lies an army of cat figurines which are sold at the administration building and once the wishes have been granted they are returned to the shelf though lord knows how this is all tracked!
There are hundreds of these maneki neko statues and it’s quite a sight. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), a feudal lord was on his way home when he saw the temple’s cat (a real one) beckoning him to enter the place. That just happened to save him from the ensuing thunderstorm and ever grateful, he decided to rebuild the neglected temple. When the cat died, a temple for it was built on the grounds, and the animal was enshrined as a god. Visitors started offering the white statues as a gesture of gratitude once their wishes became reality.
So if you’re smitten with kittens then it’s worth taking a paws at this temple which is the purr-fect place for such a thing and I’m not kitten you! It’s difficult to know where to draw feline when it comes to cat jokes but please don’t give me any fur-ball abuse!
How to get there: Take the Tōkyū Setagaya Line train from Sangenjaya Station to Miyanosaka Station (6 stops) and it is a short walk from there. Along with the Toden Arakawa Line, these lines are the only two surviving tramways in Tokyo.
Click here to read ‘TF Top 10 Alternative Shrines And Temples In Tokyo’