Often-overlooked temple in one of Japan’s most best sightseeing towns was inspired by the story of a deeply devoted samurai cat.

Located along the northern coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture, the town of Hagi boasts a number of cultural sites. Two of the most famous are Tokoji and Daishoin Temples, where the graves of the region’s daimyo (samurai lords) are located, but there’s another, less-famous temple in Hagi that’s also worth a visit.

Unrinji Temple is about 30 minutes away from Hagi’s city center, and though its name means “clouded forest temple,” it’s also known as the “cat temple.”

Sure enough, as soon as you step up to Unrinji’s gate, you’re greeted by a group of carved wooden at statues, in both traditionally artistic and modernly cute styles. There’s even a large sign reminding visitors that “A world which throws out its cats is a world that will perish.”

In total, there are more than 600 cat statues on the temple grounds and within its main hall. The stand-outs include feline versions of the “speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil” monkeys seen elsewhere in Japan…

…and a serene cat Buddha.

So why does Unrinji have such a soft spot for cats? According to legend, several centuries ago a prominent samurai who lived in the area passed away. The samurai’s beloved pet cat was so distraught by the loss of its owner that it sat by the samurai’s grave for 49 days until, overcome with grief, it bit down on its own tongue and followed the samurai into the afterlife.

After that, locals reported hearing the plaintive wailing of cats in the middle of the night, until one of Unrinji’s monks performed a service to placate the departed animal’s soul, after which the mysterious meowing stopped.

Despite the somber aspects of the story, Unrinji’s atmosphere isn’t heavy-hearted. There’s actually no shortage of playfulness in the statuary, and you’ll also find adorable cat-themed ema wish boards for sale.

One of the most popular photo spots at Unrinji is this unique pair of maneki neko/beckoning cats. Ordinarily, you’re supposed to keep such figurines in your place of business so that they can beckon in good luck, but Unrinji says that taking a photo of this pair, then using it as your smartphone’s wallpaper image, will provide success in work and financial matters.

Finally, if seeing all these cats has you feeling like you’re about to turn into one yourself, the temple also has a collection of carved cat masks, which you can slip on to complete the process.

Oh, and if you somehow manage to pull yourself away from the cat temple and want to know what else Hagi has to offer, we’ve got a few suggestions right here.

Temple information
Unrinji / 雲林寺
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Hagi-shi, Kibekami 2489
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNEws24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where it’s been far, far too long since he visited Yamaguchi.

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