July 7, 2012

A Tale (Tail?) of Two Kitties--Part One

As most of you have inevitably done, you have jumped on the Internet to research one thing when a dozen links and several hours later--you're reading about a subject totally unrelated! That is how I ended up in the boonies of Japan's capital, (four train transfers later,) in an East Tokyo suburb... There appear to be two religious places in Tokyo that claim to have spawned the Maneki Nekko. One is a shrine in Asakusa, a hugely popular tourist area where one can experience an "old" Tokyo atmosphere, and the other is in the burbs in Setagaya. That's where I headed first.

Gotokuji is the location of this famous tale of the maneki. It's my favorite because legend two is of a woman putting her cat out in the cold when she couldn't afford to feed it and the third is about a cat that gets its head chopped off. More on that later... This temple was renamed because of a cat saving a man's life (read the link above for more information.) Now, singles visit the temple to pray for marriage. Many buy a cat token to hopefully, boost their chances. While I was there, I saw an older woman and a young man in his twenties visit to pray. In my mind, I heard what I imagined them to be praying.
After a few ten yen coins (always 10 in a temple, 5 in a shrine) were contributed for a couple of my single friends, I moved on. The small temple is located in a suburban area on a large temple ground including cemetary, large prayer house and this pagoda:
I took the roundabout way of getting to Gotokuji because I wanted to ride the Setagaya line, one of the last two tram car lines in Tokyo. Outside the Setagaya station, there is an old cable car on display. Loving old, rusty things, I ended up taking more photos of this car than the temple I trekked all the way out here to see. Typical.

Although the Gotokuji temple is only mildly impressive as temples go, you should make this journey because of the nearby Tamagawa Daishi temple. It is a short, five minute walk between the two temples and they are completely different. At TD, visit the prayer hall on the right, remove your shoes and go to the sitting attendent on the left who will take your small entry fee and provide you an English flyer. Then, show Buddha you are disciplined by descending and navigating a hand-carved cave beneath the ground...in complete darkness. Two minutes felt like Twenty as I dragged my hand along the cold stone walls. At the end, there is a beautiful reward of a hall filled with carved statues and a big Buddah statue plus you get to ring a giant gong!
It's very dark--even in the lit spots--but here is the first hall I encountered. So phase one of the maneki inquisition is complete.  Next up is West Tokyo's rivaling Maneki Nekko shrine!

No comments: