Japan is well known for charming characters with unique, and sometimes ancient, backstories. And some have made their way more fully into the Western consciousness than others. The squat little bearded dolls known as “daruma” belong in the less well known category.
This curious fellow, usually painted red with large round eyes, mysteriously missing one pupil, is one of Japan’s treasured good luck charms. And what better way to get to know him than at the source.
The Shorinzan Darumaji Temple in Takasaki, Japan is believed to be the location where the concept of the daruma was first conceived, over 300 years ago. Today, over 80% of daruma dolls in Japan are still made in Takasaki. At the temple, guests are welcome to buy their own daruma doll. When first purchased, the doll will have two large blank eyes. The purchaser should make a wish, then add a pupil to only one of the daruma’s eyes. After the wish is fulfilled, the second pupil may be added.
The temple itself is adorned with hundreds of daruma, piled on top of one another in hapless order. Although the traditional color of daruma is red, here there are also varying colors ranging from black to yellow. To the left of the temple is a small room which acts as a small museum and displays interesting non-traditional daruma. The grounds around the temple are also exquisite, and worth a wander through.
If you are in Japan in January, consider visiting the temple during Daruma-Ichi, the Daruma Fair, on January 6th and 7th.
Know Before You Go
From Tokyo: Take the shinkansen to Takasaki. At Takasaki, transfer to the JR Shinetsu Line for Yokokawa. Get off at the Gunma-Yawata station. The temple is about a 20 minute walk from the station.