Your cat's gone missing? Went walkabout and hasn't returned? Copycatted Tao in The Incredible Journey or perhaps Kunkush aka Dias?
Fear not. Japan has a shrine for you. If you pray at Tachikawa Suitengū (立川水天宮), your errant moggy will return to you unharmed. That explains the shrine's nickname, Nekogaeshi Jinja (猫返し神社) or "Cat Returns Shrine".
It all started with jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita (山下洋輔), whose cat disappeared. Yamashita walked all over the neighbourhood in search of the animal, but no success. During his wanderings he stopped at Tachikawa Suitengū, several kilometers from his home, and prayed for his cat’s return.
The next day … guess who turned up? Since then, cat lovers visit this shrine to ask for their cats’ protection, and people who’ve lost a cat pray that their pet will come back home.
|The cat statue at Tachikawa Suitengū|
The shrine, also known as Azusami Tenjinsha (阿豆佐味天神社), is in Tachikawa, a 20-minute walk from either Musashi-Sunagawa Station on the Seibu Haijima Line or Sunagawa-Nanaban Station on the Tama Toshi Monorail Line. I chose the former because I spotted a river on the map and thought it might be a nicer walk.
It was, and as a bonus it was a crystal clear day, which meant Fuji-san was a constant companion. I've mentioned before that Fuji-san always acts coy with me – I never see the damn mountain because it's either hazy or cloudy or rainy whenever I'm in its vicinity – so this rare glimpse was rather nice.
The shrine's main purpose isn’t cats, but babies. Suitengū shrines are associated with Suiten (水天) or Suijin (水神), the Shinto deity of water, the sea, fishing folk, fertility, easy delivery, motherhood and children. If you visit one, be prepared for women, fertility, lots of babies and weird baby-related rituals.
When a baby is 100 days old, for example …
You realize it pains me to write about babies? I mean, really, me?!, but OK, I guess Japan needs babies to grow up strong and become salarymen who can work hard to provide pension money for all the old people.
We try again. When a baby is 100 days old, you're supposed to do all kinds of rituals and make special food and give it a teething stone. Apparently you select a small smooth stone at an appropriate shrine and give it to your baby so that the
odiferous brat little tike can gnaw on it. Read more here and here.
This stone is called a hagatame no ishi (歯固めの石) or teething stone. The Tachikawa shrine has a whole pile of it. I took a picture and fled back to the cat statue, which is to the right of the main shrine (if you're facing it).
|Teething stones. I'm not sure that it's a good idea to give a baby a stone to eat,|
but ignore me, I know nothing.
You can pray here for your cat, and if you wish to add oomph to your prayers, you can attach a photo of your cat to the ema you've bought.
Last bit of trivia. If you want to hear Yamashita play, here you go.
That's the end of the cat story. I'm still a bit surprised that I've finally resumed my shrine hunts after such a long time – 2015 was a bit not good – but here I am, like a missing cat, reporting for duty again. Die kat kom altyd weer, al is dit net sy gees.
|Another cute cat decoration at the shrine, and above, the cat statue from various angles.|