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.