Gotokuji, Tokyo’s lucky cat shrine with manekineko statues

You may not known their name, but no doubt you’ve seen those white cat statues with one paw raised. Widely known as ‘lucky cats’, the ‘Manekineko’ are a much-loved talismen beckoning good luck and fortune.

It looks as though the cat is waving, but it is actually beckoning—a gesture which in Japan resembles shooing away. This can and does cause confusion. In older times, manekineko were good luck charms for silkworm cultivators as cats helped get rid of the mice. When the industry declined, manekineko were adopted as lucky charms for businesses to ‘maneku’ (attract) customers and wealth.

Gotokuji, Tokyo’s lucky cat shrine with manekineko statues
Gotokuji, Tokyo’s lucky cat shrine with manekineko statues

The Hikone connection

There are many different theories on the origins of manekineko but one such story takes place at the Gotokuji Temple. The story goes that one day, the second lord of the Hikone domain, Naotaka Ii, was returning home from hawking. He passed a cat sitting by the gates of Gotokuji, beckoning him so he stopped for a break. Immediately a thunderstorm rolled over but he has gained shelter. Thrilled to have avoided the downpour, Naotaka made a large donation to rebuild the temple, which still stands today. Gotokuji thus became the Ii family’s temple and gravesite of Naosuke Ii who was assassinated in the Edo period.

Thanks to this folklore, visitors can purchase their own manekineko and add it to the sprawling collection of statues.

Gotokuji Shrine, Tokyo's Lucky Cat Shrine
Statues of the lucky cat shrine
Gotokuji, Tokyo’s lucky cat shrine with manekineko statues
The gift shop at Gotokuji – Tokyo’s lucky cat shrine

The secret of Gotokuji’s manekineko

All of Gotokuji’s manekineko have their right hand (front right paw) raised. This is because the left hand was once considered impure by samurai. Gotokuji’s manekineko do not hold a ‘koban’ gold coin, either. There is a belief that the cats beckon in opportunity but not results. As such, it is up to the individual to make the most of the chances they are given.

Entrance to the shrine in Setagaya Ward
Pagoda at the Setagaya Ward Shrine

The beauty of Gotokuji in autumn

Late autumn (November-December) is the perfect time to visit. The leaves in Gotokuji’s temple grounds are exceptionally beautiful. You can almost smell winter’s approach as you step on the fallen leaves, taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

Autumn leaves at the shrine

Though it is beautiful in autumn, any visit to Gotokuji can help you meditate on the positives in life. With the help of the countless manekineko statues, of course.

Name: Gotokuji
Address: 2-24-7 Gotokuji, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 minute walk from Tokyu Setagaya line Miyanosaka station. 10 minute walk from Odakyu Line Gotokuji station.
Website link

Getting to Gotokuji shrine in Setagaya Ward

Post by Japan Trek.