If you love crazy Japanese temples, or just love cats, this is the place for you.  My buddy, Adam, and I were cruising from Tokushima to Kochi, deep in the heart of Shikoku (Japan’s “forgotten” island) when we stumbled on the amazing Omatsu Daigongen Shrine.

Legend has it that in the mid 17th century, a village leader, Sobe, died suddenly, taking with him to the grave a substantial debt. Although he actually did pay off his creditor, Nogami, the jerk denied receipt of payment.  The debt thus fell to Sobe’s wife, Omatsu, who attempted repeatedly to protest the creditor’s claim. Eventually she appealed directly to the domain lord, in public – a big no-no — punishable by death.  Omatsu poured out her woes to her pet cat who, upon his mistress’ execution, transformed into a monster cat, who caused all manner of disasters for Nogami and family.

A sad story to be sure, but not a sad shrine.  In fact, it’s a delightful place, with hundreds of cat statues in residence, from 6 feet tall to the size of your thumb.   I felt a true sense of wonder here, asking myself:  Who built all these statues?  How often do they add a new one?  Who cleans them?  Is it a Shinto/Buddhist site, or are nearby residents simply fending off the Monster Cat?   (That’s about the time I started looking over my shoulder for big feline shadows!)

Traveling is like a treasure hunt.   You wander, you explore, you stumble into cool locations, you open yourself up to experience.   This Shikoku cat temple isn’t in many guidebooks. You likely won’t see another person there, foreigner or otherwise.  It’s a quiet site — mysterious, and purrfect.   The definition of a Wow place.