Big Day: Four Temples, One Shrine, and Some Castle Remains

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.”

16 thoughts on “Big Day: Four Temples, One Shrine, and Some Castle Remains

  1. Always enjoy your tours and the great pictures and background information. The blossoms are beautiful, and I am hoping we’re not far behind you on that. It’s warmer now and the trees have some tiny, tiny buds. Spring is always uplifting.

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    1. It looks like we are going to miss the cherry blossoms by a couple of days, so I’m glad we’ve gotten to see a few trees in bloom. The trees in the park by our son’s home are ready to pop!

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    1. Gotokujin is one of the loveliest temples we’ve visited. Our DIL had never been before and said the same thing, and the kids were enchanted with all the cats. Up in the pagoda is a carving of a small cat chasing a ball – my grandson and I had to hunt for it, but we found it – fun activity for an eight-year old.

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  2. Lovely! You always include so many photos and details that I almost feel like I’m there. Which I especially appreciate, since I will rarely be leaving the house (except for my daily walks, which keep me sane) for a while.

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    1. We have lots of cherry blossoms in Vancouver, and some of them are starting to bloom! So gorgeous, and a sure sign spring is here.

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      1. Japan’s cherry blossoms are glorious. We are leaving on their peak day, another thing that makes me feel so sad as I was really looking forward to seeing them again this year. Hopefully there will be more open this weekend before we leave.

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    2. I took so many pictures that day, and it was hard to pick out the ones that conveyed the places we saw the best. We’e been very lucky here that we’ve been able to get out and walk almost every day – we would have lost our minds otherwise. We’re heading back to the U.S. on Monday, and will be sequestering ourselves once we’re there.

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  3. Once again, thank you for the pictures and descriptions of your travels. As we quarantine here in the US it is great to be able to travel vicariously through you. Enjoy and stay safe!

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    1. Thank you! We are about to join you in quarantine in the very near future! We’ve been told to return to the U.S. immediately and we go back on Monday. I am so grateful for all we’ve been able to see and do while we’ve been here. We’ll hit the road again one of these days, but for now we’re going to settle in place for a while.

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  4. What is the story behind the little boy statue. Especially loved the last shrine you visited. I think it had the most beautiful grounds.

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    1. The little boy is Jizo, is a Buddhist deity, and is sometimes seen in sleeping poses. He is the guardian deity of children. The last temple did have the most beautiful grounds – absolutely breathtaking. We almost didn’t go but once we saw it we were so glad we made the effort.

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  5. Wow, what a tour de force you did! No wonder you were exhausted. We love taking the trams, we find it so enjoyable and convenient.
    It must feel good to visit when there aren’t too many tourists. Less distractions, more focus on the details. As always, beautiful pictures. Today is the first day of Spring, good timing. Stay safe!

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    1. Every place we’ve gone has been very quiet. The Japanese are getting out more as the weather improves, but still keep their distance so we feel safe. We are sad to be leaving now as we will be missing the best of spring here, but we have to go. We will be back, although probably not for a couple of years, and we know our son will come to see us in the U.S. once it’s safe.

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