Okay, so I don’t like to brag (very often), but I think it’s safe to say I live in the best suburb of Tokyo, if not Japan. (That might be stretching it a bit, but whatever). Before I became a Tokyo resident, whenever I told people I was moving to Setagaya, the reaction was always ‘Ooooh, wow! Nice place!’. Setagaya is the biggest of Tokyo’s 23 wards and is known to be pretty fancy, lots of rich people and celebrities live here, and there are loads of parks and gardens. In the spring, I felt like I was living in a fairy-tale land with magnificent cherry blossoms lining the streets. It was especially beautiful at Kinuta park and Baji park’s horse racing club (my sakura pics here). Places like Kyodo and Shimokitazawa are awesome for people spotting – lots of young university students and trendy high schoolers, as well as wealthy people driving around in their Bentley’s and Merc’s. Around the train stations, it’s always busy and crowded, but as you leave the main business areas, you find yourself in tranquil, laid-back neighbourhoods. And the best part, it’s all within 20-30 minutes of the big guns, Shinjuku and Shibuya. I honestly do feel lucky to live in such a great place!
So adding to my list of things I love about Setagaya was an experience I had the other day. On a Saturday afternoon stroll, I stumbled across a quirky temple tucked away behind residential houses and nestled in a small wooded forest. Walking into the temple grounds, you are greeted by a small but beautiful, green garden. Old tree roots weave over and under the moss-covered ground. A three-tiered pagoda challenges the height of the towering cypress trees; and a black lion on top of a giant incense burner stands in the middle of the path straight ahead. There were only a few other visitors so I took my time taking photos in the afternoon light. After 20 or so minutes I thought I’d keep looking around… Never did I expect to see what came next! As I walked towards the main temple building, I saw the strangest thing: hundreds and hundreds of maneki neko all lined up. It was a bit creepy, actually. My first thought was that the keeper of the temple had some strange obsession with these ‘lucky cats’. After consulting my digital brain (my iPhone) I found out that this temple was the birthplace of the beckoning cat!! How cool is that? There are a few stories as to how the cat statue came about but the most common legend is as follows: a daimyo (a lord in the Edo Period) was going home from his visit to the capital, when he was beckoned to a small, poor temple by a white cat. Not long after, a dangerous storm hit, and the man was able to take refuge in the temple. The cat saved the lord from any trouble the storm could have caused, and because of that, he decided to fix up the temple as well as designate it as his family temple. The lord, Ii Naosuke, and his entire clan are all buried in the graveyard behind the temple. When the cat died, it became a sort of god, and people made offerings to the temple and this ‘lucky cat’.