Some say that if you’ve seen one shrine in Japan you’ve seen them all. While many do look alike, there are plenty others which stand out with their unique architecture, artwork or gardens. To each their own, but I actually enjoy perusing old neighborhoods, checking out random shrines and learning their unique story. Last weekend my curiosity brought me to Setagaya, a very quaint and tranquil neighborhood in Tokyo, where I discovered a little Buddhist temple dedicated to maneki-neko, a.k.a. beckoning cats. During your visit to Japan you’ll see this figure everywhere – shops, restaurants, homes. They are believed to be lucky charm bringing good fortune and prosperity. Well maintained grounds of the temple are filled with beautiful maple trees, gingko and weeping cherry trees (hint: perfect spot for foliage viewing) and features remarkable wooden pagoda. Although the highlight of the temple is hidden on the left side of the temple, where a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, is surrounded with dozens of maneki-neko statues of all sizes. Legend has it that during the Edo Period, priest’s cat saved feudal lord from thunderstorm by beckoning him into the temple. Grateful to the cat and the priest, the lord made large donations to rebuild the poverty-stricken temple. When the cat died the first maneki-neko statue was made in its honor and enshrined as a god called Shobyo Kannon. Nowadays, people offer the figurines to the temple as a sign of gratitude when their wishes come true. The cats have turned into a symbol of the area (very much like Yanaka Ginza). Many themed goods are available in local shops, and feline figures dotted around the neighborhood make it a lovely place to explore.
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