An Autumn Afternoon in Gōtokuji

Date visited: October 28, 2018

Bicycles crossing the tracks of Tokyu Setagaya Line.
Bicycles crossing the tracks of Tokyu Setagaya Line.

I first came to live in Japan in the fall of 2011. I was a research student and I lived in one of the dorms of the mostly residential Setagaya Ward. It was quiet and every time the wind blew, it brought with it the sound of rustling leaves and the scent of trees in autumn. I lived in the area for only six months, but being the first ward I lived in, the place, to me, holds a special charm.

Colorful shop in Gotokuji, Setagaya.
Colorful shop in Gotokuji, Setagaya.

Seven years have passed since then, and one uneventful Sunday, I decided to take a break from studying for work and enjoy the fall weather. Not having planned anything, I thought of heading to any quiet place in Tokyo, and having worked on something related to Gōtokuji the week before, it was the first thing that came to mind.

Gotokuji Main Gate
Gotokuji Main Gate

Gōtokuji is a temple in Setagaya known for its florid display of the maneki neko, known in English as lucky or beckoning cats. These days, the lucky cat is mostly associated with business. People believe that placing the cat in one’s shop or house would invite good fortune, with one of the cat’s paws always positioned to beckon. Among its origin stories, however, is that the cat, originally caught the attention of a passing monk, and in doing so saved him from a thunderstorm. The said temple is now Gōtokuji, where several figures of the cat are now displayed in its honor.

maneki neko hall gotokuji
A portion of the temple is dedicated to maneki neko cat figures of all sizes.

As soon as I stepped out of Gōtokuji Station, a familiar atmosphere greeted my senses. All the built-up tension I had melted into ease and comfort and I became immune to time.  It seemed like every corner of the neighborhood was a photo waiting to be framed, and I found myself snapping pictures to no end.

Gotokuji neighborhood
Snapshot of a quiet, but colorful neighborhood

As I breathed in the autumn air, I began to remember how I was when I first came to Japan. I had just made my first big decision as an adult and after years of trying to escape domestic abuse, I had finally broken free. I was living in a foreign city, all on my own. I was filled with excitement. I was filled with hope. And yet at the same time,  I was overflowing with loneliness.

gotokuji_ema
Overflowing with wooden prayer tiles.

Seven years later, and here I am, remembering the hopes and dreams of the girl that I once was. Some have turned into reality, others into ashes. This country is no longer new to me, and my once blank slate is now full of colorful memories, as well as piles of hurt and overlapping scars. Loneliness has become a welcome friend, coming and going as he pleases.

As I explored the temple, the same thought kept running in my head. The girl that lived in this ward was hopeful that things would be easier than it was in Manila. In many ways, it has been, and it in many others, it has been crueler. The me seven years past has hardly figured out life, but perhaps the most important thing is that I am living it and am thankful that I am.

gotokuji omikuji
Fortune slips tied to a tree.

Before I left, I drew an omikuji. Like the future that remains to be known it was stuck shut and was hard to open. When I finally got it to unfold, it said, “There is no fortune luckier than this.” My chest tightened with a familiar pang. My heart was aching with loneliness, and yet it was also brimming with hope. For a minute, I thought I saw a cat, saving me from a thunderstorm.

maneki neko gotokuji
Stained maneki neko.

Gallery

How to Get There

Gōtokuji
Google Maps URL
6-minute walk from Myanosaka Station of Tokyu Setagaya Line
9-minute walk from Gōtokuji Station of Odakyu Line
Setagaya Ward Official Website (Japanese Only)

 

 

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