Tokyo has a great number of sightseeing spots as well as neighbourhoods that specialize in certain aspects unique to the Japanese culture. One such area is around Gotokuji Temple. Accessible from the aptly named Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu line, the neighbourhood has collectively decided to go with an interesting theme: the lucky cat, called maneki-neko in Japanese. Although not unique to Tokyo or to the Gotokuji area, the residents of this region have decidedly embraced this traditionally cute icon of Japanese life.
As soon as you exit the station, you are greeted by a stone cat, a foreshadowing of things to be expected as you walk around town. The main attraction here is Gotokuji Temple, which is about a slow 10-minute hike away from the station. You can see different shops along the cozy, narrow winding road that leads to the temple. Every so often, one of the many cats will surprise you, hidden away in a storefront case, between an umbrella and a hat, or even tucked next to a display plate of fried shrimp.
After a while, the spotting of these cats becomes an activity in itself, changing the walk to Gotokuji into a sort of egg hunt. With children, this makes it an especially fun and pleasing walk, instead of a boring transition period from the station to your destination.
You will know you are getting close to the temple when the top of the pagoda peeks out from the trees. The surroundings are surprisingly quiet, adding to the serenity of the temple. The compound is full of beautifully kept trees, the slight smell of incense in the air an interesting contrast to the city’s usual odour.
Gotokuji itself is the treasure island of all the lucky cats, with a smorgasbord of maneki-neko of various sizes neatly placed around.
A word of caution, though: Gotokuji is a proper temple, which means that people come here to mourn for relatives that have passed, and thus there are Japanese graves further in the back. There might
even be a funeral service or some other religious event going on, so as a courtesy, both moderate silence and respect for the other patrons’ beliefs are strongly encouraged.
After basking in the temple’s calming atmosphere, the walk back to the station will present another opportunity to find more cats along the way, or to grab a coffee and a snack. If you so happen to be there around lunch time, there are plenty of accommodating restaurants in the region with lunch-time menus perfectly suitable for a relaxing and enjoyable wind down.
Gotokuji itself is not a day hike, but it is conveniently placed 15 minutes away from Shinjuku station and relatively close to Shimokitazawa station, so it is an easy and interesting stop on the way to or from somewhere else. Along the way, there are quaint sweets and ice cream shops that make it an ideal stop-over, whether to experience the soothing aura from Gotokuji Temple or to amuse yourself trying to spot as many maneki-neko as you can.
For more inforamtion → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/traffic/