I turn the corner at Gōtoku-ji Temple and suddenly it feels like every (cat’s) eye is on me. There were hints of what was to come – the occasional plaster feline hidden among the carefully manicured gardens like a species-adjusted game of Where’s Waldo. But finally confronting a legion of iconic cat sculptures that stare back at you, arms up and blindingly white in the Tokyo sunshine, is a singular experience.
Despite some intimidating directions from various websites, Gōtoku-ji, also known as the “Beckoning Cat” temple, is a surprisingly straightforward seven-minute walk from a subway station of the same name. Tucked in the twisting streets of a quiet residential area of the Setagaya suburb, the temple grounds are well-used by locals. There are parents, turning the walkway into a bike lane for their children. Devoted Buddhists, pausing to pray. And tourists like me, who have come for the dizzying pleasure of visiting shrines covered with thousands of red-eared cat sculptures.