Japan, Tokyo

Gotokuji: Visiting the Lucky Cat Temple in Tokyo

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I’ve had Gotokuji Temple bookmarked for a while, ever since I saw the sea of Maneki Neko (Lucky Cat) on Instagram a few years back. Gotokuji is located in Setagaya, one of the coolest neighborhoods in Tokyo. Finally, I got the chance to give them a visit!

Here is how it went!

Gotokuji Train Station
Gotokuji Train Station

What is Maneki Neko?

Maneki Neko is a well-known symbol in Japanese culture. It is a white cat with red details and one of its paws raised. The name “Maneki Neko” translates to “beckoning cat”, a fitting name because the cat is believed to beckon good luck and fortune.

Maneki Neko figurines at Gotokuji Temple
Maneki Neko figurines at Gotokuji Temple

When the cat has its right paws up, it will bring fortune or money. But when the left paw is raised, it will attract more people or customers. This is why you’ll often see Maneki Neko at the entrance of a restaurant or retail shop.

While there are many stories about how Maneki Neko originated, one of the stories is that it first appeared at Gotokuji Temple. Hence, that’s why Gotokuji became a lucky cat neighborhood.

Tips about visiting Gotokuji

  • Set aside about 2 hours – Gotokuji is not a big area, and you can probably visit there in just under two hours.
  • Visit after 10 AM – I would also recommend that you visit after 10 AM so that you can also visit some cafes. Most of the businesses only open at 10 AM.
  • Don’t visit on a Monday – While Gotokuji Temple is open every day, some businesses are closed on Monday. So if you want to do anything else in the area, avoid visiting on a Monday
  • Bring Cash – While most of Tokyo seems to have adopted touchless payment or payment using IC Card, I did not see this option in the smaller cafes in Gotokuji.

Here is what you can do in Gotokuji:

1. Visit the Maneki Neko Statue at the exit of Gotokuji Station

If you’re coming to the area via the Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu line, right outside the station you’ll see the first Maneki Neko item around the neighborhood: A statue right at the exit of the station!

Maneki Neko Statue outside Gotokuji Station
Maneki Neko Statue outside Gotokuji Station

2. Wait for the Maneki Neko Train on Setagaya Line

If you’re coming to Gotokuji via Sangenjaya station, you’ll have the chance to transfer to the Setagaya line, which is a light rail line operated by Tokyu Corp. The trains on this line are usually either solid pink, green, or blue. But once in a while – you might get lucky and get on the special Maneki Neko train!

Maneki Neko Train on Setagaya Line
Maneki Neko Train on Setagaya Line

I was lucky on my very first visit to Setagaya. The first train was a Maneki Neko train, and I gleefully boarded, thinking this was how all the trains would look on that line. Imagine my disappointment when my friend, who lives in the area and commutes using the Setagaya line, told me that the Maneki Neko train is rare – there is only about one Maneki Neko train for every 10 trains!

I haven’t seen the Maneki Neko train since that first visit, but I also haven’t been trying too hard. You could try waiting for them if you have the time, but I can’t tell you how often you’ll have to wait.

If you do get lucky, here are a few details you can see on the train:

The handles on Maneki Neko Train on Setagaya Line
The handles on the Maneki Neko Train have been changed to be Maneki-neko-shaped
Maneki Neko Train on Setagaya Line
Even the floor had cute cat paws!

3. Visit Gotokuji Temple

One of the main reasons why visitors come to Gotokuji is to visit none other than the famous Gotokuji Temple itself, one of the places believed to be the birthplace of Maneki Neko.

Admission is free to the temple, and it is open every day, but it’s only open until 5 PM.

Entrance of Gotokuji Temple
Entrance to Gotokuji Temple

Once you enter the temple, there are a few other notable sights you can see in the temple before you get to the Maneki Neko part.

Pagoda at Gotokuji Temple
Pagoda at Gotokuji Temple
Komainu at Gotokuji Temple
Komainu at Gotokuji Temple

Turn left from the main hall, and you’ll see a smaller gate with a Maneki Neko statue. That’s how you’ll know you’ve come to the right place.

Maneki Neko Statue inside Gotokuji Temple
Maneki Neko Statue inside Gotokuji Temple

Inside, you’ll find the Maneki Neko figurines that have made this temple famous. They come in all sizes, the smallest one being just a little bit bigger than my fingernails! Super adorable.

All sizes of Maneki Neko at Gotokuji Temple
All sizes of Maneki Neko at Gotokuji Temple – my finger for scale!
Maneki Neko at Gotokuji Shrine

You can then spend as long as you want taking photos of the cats. In my experience, the temple was popular with foreign tourists, but it was not crowded. Still, it would be difficult to get a photo of the cat hallway without anyone in it. For context, I visited on a Thursday in December, at around noon.

Pay attention to the notice pasted all around the temple, which explains how you can use Maneki Neko. I saw quite a few Maneki Neko figurines with scribbles on them, so I guess those people did not see this notice.

Gotokuji Shrine

The notice did not elaborate further, but what you’re supposed to do is buy a Maneki Neko figurine from the temple shop, make a wish, and bring it home. The figurine is believed to help make your wish come true. Then, when your wish has come true, you can bring back the Maneki Neko figurine to the temple so that the good luck will stay with you.

If you’d like to write your wishes and leave them at the temple, you can purchase these wooden Ema instead:

Wooden Ema at Gotokuji Temple
Wooden Ema at Gotokuji Temple

When I visited the temple in December, they unfortunately sold out of all items so I could not purchase anything. The cats of all sizes and both wooden emas were sold out.

4. Exploring around Gotokuji neighborhood

As soon as you get off the train and exit Gotokuji station, you’ll find a small street filled with shops, bakeries, and cute cafes. I find it quite charming! It has a similar vibe to Shimokitazawa.

The small street outside Gotokuji Station
The small street outside Gotokuji Station

I’m sure you would have noticed that many of these shops sell Maneki Neko goodies, as well as a little Maneki Neko figurine or statue at the front of their shops. And if you remember what I said before, take note of which paw is raised on the cats in front of the shop – yes, the cats in front of the stores all have their left paw raised! This is because the shops are hoping to attract more customers.

Maneki neko shirt near Gotokuji Station
Maneki neko shirt near Gotokuji Station

Although not Maneki Neko-themed, coffee lovers will be glad to know you can find good coffee in this area. One of them is right on that small street, called Iron Coffee.

Iron Coffee at Gotokuji
Iron Coffee at Gotokuji

5. Get Maneki Neko-themed pastries

Of course, because this is Japan, you can expect people to completely play into the Maneki Neko theme! Many bakeries and cafes would sell Maneki Neko-themed pastries.

Here are two that I tried during my visit:

Shofuku-yaki Maneko Neko at Rarasand Setagaya

Opening Hours: 10 AM – 8 PM

Right on the small street outside Gotokuji Station, Rarasand should not be difficult to find.

Rarasand at Gotokuji
Rarasand at Gotokuji

They have a few Maneki Neko pastries. The one that I tried was Shofuku-yaki, which is very similar to the beloved Taiyaki but shaped like Maneki Neko instead. It goes for 280 – 330 yen depending on the filling you choose.

Rarasand at Gotokuji
Rarasand at Gotokuji
Maneki-neko-shaped Shofuku-yaki from Rarasand
Maneki-neko-shaped Shofuku-yaki from Rarasand

Maneki-Neko Dorayaki at Mahorodou Sougetsu

Opening Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM. Closed on Mondays.

Closer to Gotokuji Temple, on the other side of the railroad, is a small cafe selling cute Maneki Neko Dorayaki. Dorayaki is a classic Japanese snack, made of two pancakes with azuki (sweet red bean) filling, and the one they sold here is stamped with a Maneki Neko shape.

You can have the dorayaki to go for 280 yen, but if you want to sit inside, you must buy a drink to go with it. I wanted to sit inside so I had the Dorayaki with a hot Houjicha (roasted rice tea) and the bill came out to be around 520 yen.

The restaurant played into the cat theme as well by serving them on a cat-shaped ceramic plate.

Mahorodou Sougetsu at Gotokuji
Mahorodou Sougetsu at Gotokuji

I have this habit of turning over ceramic ware after I’m done eating because I want to find out where the shops get their plates. Well, I had a nice little surprise when I turned over the cat plate…

Mahorodou Sougetsu at Gotokuji
Mahorodou Sougetsu at Gotokuji

Such a cute, unexpected delightful detail 🐾 🥹 I love this about Japanese culture!

And with that, my lovely afternoon in Gotokuji is a wrap.

Let me know what you think in the comments below! See you next time 🐈 🐾

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Filed under: Japan, Tokyo

Written by Melissa

Hi there! 👋🏻 I'm the "Girl" in Girl Eat World. I love eating, traveling and sharing my travel experiences in this blog. During the day, I work as a designer in tech. More about me →

4 Comments

  1. Judy Ryan says

    thanks so much for the info – this was really helpful as I haven’t visited this temple on any previous visits to Tokyo but definitely going this time.

  2. Kemal says

    Great post!
    I enjoyed reading it, it is short and informative, with nice photos.
    Also a nice and loving appreciative attitude is a plus:)

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