Kannon Hall at Shozen-in Temple

Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property (Building)

Kannon Hall at Shozen-in Temple was built in 1625 by Sagara Nagatsune (the 20th head of the Sagara family and first lord of the Hitoyoshi domain) to enshrine Seiyo Hoin—the chief priest of Fumon-ji Temple—and his mother Kugetsu Zenyo with their beloved cat, Tamatare.

The incident that sparked the construction of this temple earned it the nickname “Cat Temple”.

The incident occurred in 1582, when Seiyo Hoin and his brother Munemasa, lord of Yuyama Castle, went to visit Lord Sagara Yorisada (18th head of the Sagara Clan and the younger half-brother of Sagara Yoshihi).

A samurai who knew about this visit and despised Munemasa lied, saying, “The three of them are working together with the Satsuma Domain to attack Hitoyoshi Kuma.

To stop the attack, we must kill them now.”

Because of this, Seiyo Hoin was framed for a crime he did not commit and was killed on March 16th.

His mother, Kugetsu Zenyo, retreated to Ichifusayama Jingu Shrine with their pet cat Tamatare to let go of her grudge over her sons’ murder.

After twenty-one days of fasting, she threw herself into Momagafuchi Abyss with the cat, committing suicide.

Soon after, the ghost of the cat Tamatare began tormenting Tadafusa, 19th lord of the Sagara Clan, on a nightly basis, and the samurai who murdered Seiyo Hoin went mad and died.

After a series of strange happenings, the Sagara clan built Kannon Hall of Shozen-in Temple on the ruins of Fumon-ji Temple to appease their vengeful spirits, and they enshrined the cat and Kugetsu Zenyo as images modeled after a statue of the thousand-armed Kannon.

They then ordered the locals to visit Ichifusayama Jingu Shrine and Shozen-in Temple (the Cat Temple) every year on March 16th, and eventually the curse was lifted.

This tradition was carried out with great fanfare until 1955, and to this day continues with the “Cat Temple Spring Festival”.

Faith in the gods is still strong, with “Otake-san”, the god of marriage, worshipped at Ichifusayama Jingu Shrine, and “Goshin-san”, a god that watches over children, worshipped at the Momagafuchi Shrine.

Kannon Hall at Shozen-in Temple, designated a National Important Cultural Property, is characterized by its thatched roof and its lavish construction, with lacquer coating on the interior and exterior of the building as well as gold leaf and vivid colors covering the interior.

The temple has been well preserved and still retains its original Buddhist ritual implements: a miniature shrine and a Buddhist altar.

Instead of the usual guardian dog statues, “guardian cats” watch over visitors to this temple, an unusual sight and another of the highlights of this “Cat Temple”.

Cultural Property Overview


3542, Iwano, Kuma Gun Mizukami Mura, Kumamoto Ken, 868-0701, Japan

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