Japan 2019 Day 14: Tokyo's Cat Temple Gotokuji

Having been in Tokyo on 4 separate trips before, I have already visited most of the main tourist spots. I wanted to visit some less well known places in our one full Tokyo day, starting in Nezu. Nezu is north of Ueno park, and is one of the only areas in the whole of Tokyo to survive the bombing in World War II. A number of the buildings in the area are pre-war and still hold the charms of the last century. Our final desination in Nezu was to be Nezu shrine, on the northern tip of the Nezu district. It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies, warm weather and quiet as we walked the mile to Nezu from Ueno. The buildings and streets were small and quaint, hard to believe we were just a walk away from bustling Ueno.

Nezu shrine is said to have a 1900 year history, with many of the shrine buildings standing since the 1700’s, surviving the bombings of WWII. The shrine grounds are ample, at a 8:30am, almost empty too. Nezu shrine is most well known for the azalea festival which happens late April into May. The manicured borders of azalea all burst into pink and purple blooms, and are quite stunning. In autumn there were no blooms to see, but the shrine grounds were still bright green and peaceful.

The main shrine complex has an amazing atmopshere of stillness, and seems very ancient. Just north of the main shrine is Otome Inari Shrine, with two sections of torii gate lined paths to a small fox shrine, a smaller version of the Fushimi shrine in Kyoto, and in Aomori.

The gates aren’t as impressive as in Kyoto, but much like Aomori they could have done with a bit of maintenance. I just saw (11/03/2020) that the shrine is now undergoing some maintenance, so perhaps the gates will get a bit of attention too, or they can at least harvest their mushroom crop!

We headed back via Ueno Park, to try and find an artist we had bought a painting from in 2017, in the hopes of getting another. In 2017 the man we bought the painting off seemed to be homeless, wearing broken glasses and torn clothing. His old set up included just a couple of paintings. It seems that time had been good to him as his business had expanded, and he looked better in himself. We were pleased to buy another painting of his, and hope to be able to do so again in the future.

Our next stop was across the other side of Tokyo in Gotokuji. We jumped on the Yamanote line to Shinjuku and then took a train to Yamashita station. We were heading to visit the increasinly popular Gotokuji temple, also known at the beckoning cat temple. It is said that Gotokuji is the birth place of the maneki-neko, beckoning cat. The area is obviously leaning in to the tourism as even the local train was cat themed.

Thousands of cat statues, from big to small, line the temple area. You can visit the temple office and buy your own cat statue to make your wish. After 5 trips to Japan a lot of temples and shrines can seem a bit samey, but this was certainly different! The red and white cats really stood out. The rest of the temple grounds were also beautiful, with a pagoda, garden and cemetery open to explore. The temple was also rather quiet, especially for late morning. The area around the temple was predominantly residential, and had a really relaxing feel.

We got back to Shinjuku ready for lunch, and had a delicious “low allergy” curry at Cafe Gusto, a convenient family restaurant chain that is across Japan. We were in Shinjuku as I was getting a tattoo at “Japan Tattoo” which was just a short walk away from Shinjuku station. After lunch, a spot of shopping, we went to the tattoo studio. If you’ve had tattoos in the UK then the set up may seem a bit odd. The studio was actually an apartment in a block, and the two tattoo artists were set up in the largest room in the apartment. The receptionist was from the UK and was bilingual, so could communicate between us and the artists (I didn’t want to risk my Japanese on a tattoo!). The process was quite lengthy, but very professional, the prices are higher than in the UK, but it was an experience I would repeat again.

Our plan for the evening was to get some photos of Tokyo Tower from a higher vantage point, so we headed to the World Trade Centre in Hamamatsucho. There is an entry fee to get up to the viewing floor, but it was quite reasonable. The viewing floor allows for almost 360 views, although struts and other buildings go limit the view in places. The small window area where you can see Tokyo Tower was completely blanketed by photographers with tripods set up, but none of them were taking any photos. We managed to find a small gap with a good enough view to set up, and we waited. The lights on Tokyo Tower don’t come on at dusk, but at preset times that you can find online. I was so excited to get to shoot Tokyo Tower at night, and was horrifically disappointed when the lights came on. We had chosen the first night that a “special” light display was to be shown, hence the presence of the photographers hogging the window. Many people seemed to be impressed, but after an hour sitting on the floor waiting for the lights to go on, I was rather miffed!

After a few quick snaps of the Tower we left the building and headed back to our hotel for an early night. The other views from the World Trade Centre were stunning, such a shame we went on such a special day haha!

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