Our next stop on our way to Matsumoto was a temple in Takasaki (Gunma Prefecture) known as the birthplace of the famous Daruma dolls: The Syorinzan Darumaji (達磨寺 縁起だるま). Unfortunately we arrived at the site quite late and didn’t get to see much of the city. I’m hoping to come back to Takasaki on one of our future trips to Japan. It seems like a beautiful little city with a lot to see and experience.
Daruma dolls are good luck charms which many Japanese purchase around New Year with hopes that it will help bring good fortune. Every year on the 6th and 7th of January during the Nanakusa Festival, a “Daruma Market (Daruma Ichi)” is held on the temple grounds. Kaigen, the opening of Daruma’s eyes, is a famous folk ritual. When you receive or purchase a Daruma it’s eyes are blank. You entrust your wishes in the doll and fill it’s left eye. Once your wish is fulfilled you show your appreciation by painting it’s right eye. At the start of the year, one is supposed to bring the doll back to the temple. Daruma Kuyô is a ceremony at which all Daruma purchased the previous year are burned together in a big fire.
It is believed that at the baks of river Usui there was a small hut holding the statue of Kannon (better known as Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin within Chinese tradition) ,the Bodhisattva of compassion. After a flood the villagers found a piece of fragrant wood and placed it inside the hut. In 1680 a Buddhist ascetic carved an image of Daruma Daishi (Bodhidharma: a legendary Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the one who brought Chan/Zen Buddhism to China.) in it.
During the Geroku period in 1698 a Zen priest from China, Shinetsu, is said to have founded this temple, which enshrines a holy statue called Hokushin-Chintaku Reifuson that realizes the wishes of peace and happiness with the prayer for the polar star, along with a seated figure of Daruma-Daishi mentioned above. The making of Daruma dolls began during the Great Famine of Tenmei (1782-1788). The ninth Chief Priest of the temple, Tohgaku, made an effigy based on the image of Daruma-Daishi and taught the local farmers how to make similar daruma dolls out of papier-mâché so that they would have something to sell during the difficult years. Today a hundred local farm families make almost two million of the dolls each year!
At the site you will find a little shop and museum where you can purchase different Daruma charms, fortunes and souvenirs. The temple grounds also hold a small peaceful garden ,which is definitely worth checking out. Don’t miss out on this little gem when you visit this area!