Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop. Photo : Said Karlsson

One of the quirkiest temples in the Tokyo area has to be Gotoku-ji. At the entrance to the grounds it looks like most other temples, but once you take a wander inside a distinct feature makes this place stand out.

Along the path leading to the main temple are thousands of the white lucky cat figures known as Maneki-neko, or beckoning cat, in Japanese. Every day, visitors place new cat figures here dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.  It’s supposed to bring good luck.

There are several legends around the origin of the cat figure.  One recounts that a feudal lord was walking by Gotoku-ji back in the Edo era when he saw a cat in front of a temple gate that appeared to be waving or beckoning to him.  Curious, he followed the cat into the temple and while inside a huge thunderstorm broke.  Thanks to the cat, the lord escaped a drenching, so in gratitude he donated rice and land to the head priest of the temple, the owner of the cat.

Maneki-nekos today are often found in shop windows or at the entrance to businesses, to beckon inside wealth and good luck.  When the cat died, it was enshrined as a god called Shobyo Kannon.  People started visiting and placing cat figures in the temple, until it evolved into the widespread and well known symbol of good luck that we all know today.

Whatever the origin of Maneki-neko, this charming temple deserves a visit.  Gotoku-ji is located in Setagaya ward in the southwestern part of Tokyo. The nearest train station is Gotokuji on the Odakyu-line.

Visitors believe that putting their own Maneki-neko here will bring them good luck. The figures are sold at a nearby shop.

The cats are to honor Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The rest of the vast temple grounds are more traditional.

The cat is a prominent figure on signs in the neighborhood as well. Here is one on a local yakitori (grilled chicken) shop.

Gotokuji is one of the major temples in Setagaya-ku, one of the biggest districts in Tokyo.

The number of cat statues at the temple is impressive.

Most of the Maneki-neko are spotlessly clean…

… But on some of them, moss has started to grow.

If you need a spot of luck, adding another cat to this impressive collection might be worth considering.

Said Karlsson is a Tokyo-based photographer.  More of his portfolio of work can be found here

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