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Here Kitty, Kitty

Welcome to fall in Japan! It IS technically fall, right? (No, wait, I just checked and the Almighty Internet says the first day of fall is technically September 23 so I'm a smidge off...) Either way, I love fall. Japan is great because it has all of the joys of fall (beautiful leaves, warm days and cool evenings) and none of the pumpkin spice.

Today I went to visit a temple in another part of Setagaya ward called Gotokuji, which I discovered via the Instagram of one of my friends who was in Japan for the summer. Even though I also live in Setagaya (fun fact: Setagaya is the most populous ward in Tokyo) it's so big that it STILL took me 40 minutes to get there. Being in Tokyo really redefines what I consider to be a reasonable commute. When I was looking up train schedules to get there I thought, "Oh it's ONLY going to take me 40 minutes to get there? Great!"

Gotokuji is located in a sleepy, charming residential area of Setagaya. It's a beautiful temple complex, but it's really known for one thing: manekineko.

What are manekineko? Most of you actually know what they are already, albeit by a different (and slightly misleading) name: they're the "Chinese" lucky cats that you often see in Chinese restaurants, the ones with one paw raised in the air. I put "Chinese" in quotations, here, because while these "beckoning cats" (which is what manekineko means) are often associated with China, they actually originated in Japan. The exact origin of the beckoning cat is debated, but the legend says that at Gotokuji there was a beloved cat. One day when a feudal lord was passing by he saw the cat waving at him to come inside; the instant after he did so a fierce thunderstorm broke out and the grateful lord bestowed lots of money and prestige on the temple in thanks. Who knows if that's true, but it does mean that there's a lot of lucky cat imagery on the complex, including an entire corner of (probably) thousands of cat statues:


They're so cute!






If you look closely around other parts of the temple complex, too, you'll notice more cats, like the ones on the ema (wooden plaques you buy and then write wishes on) and even carved into the pagoda:



Another misconception about the cats in the Western hemisphere is that they're "waving" at you. This is one instance where body gestures don't translate well. What most people (in America, at least) would consider a sort of "shoo, shoo" gesture is actually a "come here" gesture in Japan. I forget this from time to time as well--I look at someone waving their hand at me and think "Why are they telling me to go away?" before I remember they're actually beckoning me over.


The rest of the temple was also very serene and relaxing; there was a group of people out sketching and painting--I asked, and they're some sort of painting club/group--and other people just absorbing the atmosphere.



MEOW!


Comments

  1. Oh it was lovely to learn a bit about something that is uniquely, idiosyncratically Japanese. I know you've spent considerable amount of time in Japan at this point, but I wonder about the balance of feeling "I'm a visitor" or "I'm at home" that exists in your day-to day life. I'll admit, it's fascinating to me, as I've never spent longer than about 3 weeks in another country. Sending love! xo

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