Japan Tokyo Shimokitazawa

Gotokuji Temple

Historical Zen Sanctuary and Origin of the Beckoning Cat

Photo of Gotokuji Temple, Japan (Gotokuji Temple by Dick Thomas Johnson)

Gotokuji Temple, situated in Setagaya, Tokyo, is known for its historical significance and cultural icons. Founded in 1480 by Kira Masatada, the temple has close ties with the Ii clan and the beckoning cat, a symbol of good luck. The Manekineko-den is dedicated to these cats, and the temple grounds offer a glimpse into centuries of devotion and tradition.

About Gotokuji Temple

Originally a Rinzai Zen temple, Gotokuji’s conversion to Soto Zen in 1584 marked a notable shift in its history. Its founding was to honor Kira Masatada’s aunt, and by 1633, it served as the family temple for the Ii clan of the Hikone Domain, indicating its importance during the Edo period. The temple bears the name ‘Gotokuji,’ inspired by Ii Naotaka’s posthumous Buddhist name, who legend says was beckoned to safety by a cat during a thunderstorm, establishing the temple’s connection with the maneki-neko.

The Manekineko-den celebrates this link with countless white cat figures believed to bring fortune. These statues are offerings from visitors thankful for their fulfilled wishes, creating a reflective atmosphere near the main hall.

Besides its cultural ties, Gotokuji is the final resting place for notable figures including Ii Naosuke, influential during Japan’s opening to the West in the Bakumatsu period. The temple also commemorates the Hikone Domain warriors involved in the Sakuradamon Incident, a pivotal event in the late Edo period.

The temple complex, updated with a three-storied pagoda in 2006 featuring cat carvings, encompasses the main hall and a cemetery with historic gravestones and Jizo statues. Buddhist figures such as Shakanyorai, Miroku Bosatsu, and a Dharma master enhance the spiritual depth of Gotokuji.

Visitors find peace within the temple’s gardens, offering a respite from urban life. The spacious grounds facilitate contemplation amidst the historical and religious significance. The temple’s atmosphere is noticeably quieter than more frequented sites in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Cultural enthusiasts can visit a booth selling religious items, including ema for inscribing wishes. The beckoning cats, concentrated in a specific area, represent the temple’s cultural impact and the enduring appeal of good luck charms.

In essence, Gotokuji Temple is a site of deep historical and cultural resonance, providing insights into the evolution of Zen Buddhism and the Ii clan’s legacy, alongside the captivating story of the maneki-neko. Visitors are welcome to explore and perhaps leave a maneki-neko statue in hope of blessings.

Getting There the easiest way to reach Gotokuji Temple

SG 07

 Tokyu Setagaya Line

 5-10 minute walk (500m)
OH 10

 Odakyū Odawara Line

 10-20 minute walk (0.9km)

Around Gotokuji Temple

Gotokuji Temple

Buddhist Temple in Tokyo

open 8am - 4:30pm
closed Irregularly


豪徳寺, 東京

Google MapsApple Maps

Updated 13 Mar 2024 • Report an error

People say about us...

It's an awesome guide and has been so helpful in that it covers much more than just the destinations itself. - Jeff

Brilliant job. Your insight will let us plan our days so much more effectively. Very much appreciated. -  Gordon & Claire