On this day: Yanaka “Cat Town”, Tokyo

See more from my On This Day series here, where I celebrate travel memories on their trip anniversaries.

On November 15, 2018, I was visiting Yanaka “Cat Town” in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan loves cats. From cat cafés to actual cat shrines, you will find symbols of our feline friends everywhere in the country. This is reflective of the Japanese cultural reverence for cats, which are thought to confer good luck.

One particularly well known Japanese legend tells the story of a lord who was seeking shelter beneath a tree during a storm and came across a cat that beckoned him with a wave of its paw. Intrigued by the cat’s gesture, the lord walked toward the cat, just as a strike of lightning hit the exact spot he had been standing but a moment earlier. Henceforth, the depiction of a cat with beckoning paw became a symbol of good fortune.

While we were in Tokyo, we made a visit to Yanaka, a quiet neighbourhood near Ueno Park in Taito Ward. As one of the only parts of Tokyo spared from Allied forces fire bombings during World War II, Yanaka is quite interesting in having retained its old world architecture and charm.

Beyond this, it is known for its sizeable population of stray cats, hence its nickname “Cat Town”. It’s unknown exactly why so many cats have made a home for themselves in Yanaka, but one assumption is that the area is attractive to them for its high density of trees and temples. In any case, the cats have become so beloved that the local district incorporated cats onto their district flag and the Yanaka Ginza shopping street has become something of a cat theme park.

Surprisingly and disappointingly, we spent a couple hours wandering the neighbourhood and only spotted maybe one cat. We even took a walk in search through the nearby Yanaka Cemetery, which we were told was the most common feline hangout, but we had no such luck. Where were they hiding? We will never know.

17 responses to “On this day: Yanaka “Cat Town”, Tokyo”

  1. I didn’t know the cat legend, now their lives of cats sense.

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    1. I’d always wondered about the story behind those waving cats. Now we’ve both learned something new!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Im so doing this next time I am in Tokyo!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fun place to visit even if you don’t find many cats around 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know the story of the beckoning cat! Yanaka is a historic district, I wandered its winding streets once. Visited a cat cafe in Shimokitazawa, a trendy spot – a nice respite for those that have tiny apartments and can’t have pets.

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    1. I actually only really looked into the history of the area in more depth while writing this post. Very interesting!

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  4. […] following along, today’s recap of my trip to Japan is a two parter. After our midday visit to Yanaka aka “Cat Town”, we spent the later afternoon touring around the Imperial […]

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  5. What a fascinating legend! I’ve heard of the Cat Town before, but I’ve never went. Perhaps all of the cats were sleeping in that day when you visited, so you didn’t see many! Cats do the darndest things sometimes, don’t they? Haha.

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    1. At least it was still fun to explore this neighbourhood, it’s quite different and more historic than the other spots we had seen in Tokyo so far.

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  6. lol i have never understood peoples love of cats.only one cat??? maybe too many dogs moved in?

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    1. Haha! I’m more of a dog person myself and I wish I could visit a dog town 🙃

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  7. I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Cat Town in Tokyo. We did visit the Gotokuji Temple though, which is thought to be the birthplace of the “good luck” cat.

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    1. I think I read about it on a travel blog. That’s the benefit of following all these blogs! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I will go there, investigate the lack of live cats, and report back.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] a day of visiting quiet, historic sites including the neighbourhood of Yanaka and the Imperial Palace, we switched gears and went on to see more of the lively, modern side of […]

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  10. […] On this day: Yanaka “Cat Town”, Tokyo — I’ve Bean Travelling […]

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