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!
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 🐈 🐾