A side of feline cuteness with Japan’s cultural heritage
Japan’s massive love for cats is well-known way beyond their borders. It’s the birthplace of Hello Kitty, the maneki-neko lucky cat, online celebrity cats Maru and Shiro, and many more internationally famous felines. Their many cat cafes are also a popular tourist destination when visiting Japan. A little less known place, where you can get to see a more unique side to Japan’s wonderful cat culture, is the cat temple.
Gotanjoji, located in Echizen City of Fukui Prefecture, gained the name “cat temple” even though it did not start out as a temple for cats. It’s a relatively new Zen temple, built in 2009 to mark the birthplace (Echizen) of Keizan, one of the prominent founders of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It’s a charming temple rich in cultural history, but what the temple is most famous for is not its history, but its cats. Every year, thousands of tourists visit the temple to see the 20 to 30 abandoned or injured cats that live there freely.
How did the temple end up caring for so many cats? When Gotanjoji was still undergoing construction, the head priest stumbled upon a box on the temple grounds that contained four abandoned cats. He simply fed them food and water. Slowly, more and more cats started to turn up, and the monks also fed them. The number kept going up, from four to 10 to 20 to 50… and at one point in time, about 80 cats were calling the temple home!
As a training temple, Gotanjoji has lots of trainee monks, and taking care of the cats has become one of their daily duties. The monks feed the cats twice a day, at 7am and 3pm, using a long rain gutter as the cat dish to put their food. And what a sight it is during feeding time, when cats of all colours and sizes gather in a row around the rain gutter, happily feasting.
How adorable are they? If you are visiting the cat temple, be sure to stick around for feeding time, because you don’t want to miss the cuteness!
After the cats are full and satisfied, they would scatter and laze around the grounds. That’s the best time for visitors to interact with them.
The cats around the temple are very people-friendly. Visitors love playing with them and letting them climb onto their laps to rest. The cats would go into all sorts of corners on the temple grounds, often to sleep (food coma – how relatable!), so keep an eye out for them. Two popular spots for them are on top of the fortune box and the donation box, both of which are decked in maneki-neko! How fitting!
Since the Gotanjoji temple has essentially become a part-time cat shelter, the monks have really become committed to caring for the cats. Besides feeding them, the monks also regularly provide medical assistance to the cats. They enjoy playing with the furry creatures too, and it looks like the love is mutual! Here is the head priest Koshu Itabashi, 87, happily playing with the cats:
If just seeing these photos already warms your heart, you need to experience the loving atmosphere at the cat temple in person!
Bring some of the sweetness home with you by picking up a cat souvenir or two at the shop – they are original products made to represent the unique cat temple. You can even bring a cat home! The temple holds adoption fairs regularly in spring and autumn, looking for committed foster parents for the abandoned cats.
Check out this video for more of the cats at the cat temple (turn on the English subtitles!):
Gotanjoji Temple, 32 Shodencho, Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture, Japan
(Take the JR train to Takefu Station)
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/gotanjouji/
Contact number: 0778-27-8821