The Maneki Neko Cat Tram on the Setagaya Line
This past Sunday, Brett and I rode the two-car Setagaya Line tram out seven stops to Miyanosaka Station meet our son and his family and visit the Gotokuji Temple, where legend says the Maneki Neko (lucky cat) originated. However, when we arrived at the station and checked the map, we discovered that there was a Shinto Hachimangu shrine across the street as well as three more Buddhist temples in the neighborhood, and we figured as long as we were in the area we should walk around and visit them too after we parted from the rest of the family. Also, while we were all together at Gotokuji Temple, our son told us that just up the street was a park that contained the ruins of the foundation of Setagaya castle, and we decided we’d fit that in as well.
- Gotokuji Temple: “Legend has it that during the Edo period, the final era of traditional Japanese government, a cat under the care of a priest at Gotokuji Temple led a feudal lord to safety during a thunderstorm. The cat beckoned the lord and his servants inside with a waving gesture—hence all maneki-neko statues have one paw raised.” Atlas Obscura
- Setagaya Hachimanguu Shrine: The foundation of this shrine dates back to the 11th century. The main shrine (hondo) was renovated in 1964, but inside is a wooden shrine structure dating from the 19th century. The Hachiman shrine is considered the guardian shrine for the Setagaya area and hosts several festivals, as well as sumo matches during the Autumn festival. Several smaller shrines dot the grounds.
- Jotokuin Temple: After leaving the Hachimangu Shrine, we walked up the road to visit two Buddhist temples that sat right next to each other. Our first stop was Jotokuin, a small but lovely temple almost hidden away among the houses in a residential neighborhood. It took us a few wrong turns to find the entrance, but it was worth the extra steps.
- Jōsenji Setagaya-betsuin: After visiting Jotokuin Temple, we went looking for Jōsenji Temple, located next to Jotokuin on the map. We walked past it a few times because we were looking for something old, and this temple complex was instead lots of new. The large grounds are mostly covered by a cemetery with a small hall in the middle, but other buildings are large and new, and used for funerals and include a crematorium. There were funeral ceremonies going on while we were there (we saw women dressed in funeral dresses of deepest black (the color scares me) and heard sutras being chanted), and families were also visiting the cemetery, so we didn’t linger.
- Setagaya Castle Ruins: Our next stop was the castle remains. To get there we had to walk back past the Miyanosaka station and continue about 500 feet down the road to a park that holds the ruins. The “ruins” were basically a big, fortified hole in the ground, but we got a good idea of the size and shape of the castle, which was probably at least four stories tall. However, the best part of this stop was a big cherry tree blooming in front of the park! The sight of that tree really perked us up – spring is coming!
- Shokoin Temple: We almost didn’t make to this last temple because we were quite tired at this point and not sure the walk would be worth it, but Shokoin turned out to be an absolutely lovely place to visit and we were glad we made the effort. Hidden behind a large bamboo forest, the temple invited us to climb up its stairs and through the main gate, where we found beautiful temple buildings surrounding an exquisitely landscaped courtyard. There was only one other visitor there at the time, and the only sounds we heard were our footsteps on the gravel and the wind through the bamboo – it was almost magical.
We ended up spending over four hours in the Miyanosaka area, and I walked a total of 11,282 steps (4.2 miles). It was a big, exhausting day (which we topped it off with our weekly food shop at Tokyu), but we had a great time with our family here, enjoyed some wonderful weather, and got to see some interesting and beautiful places located pretty much “right in our own backyard.”