Japan has many symbols of luck and good fortunes such as the maneki neko cat figurines, omamori (protective amulets) and omikuji (paper fortunes) but one of the more interesting ones is the tumbling doll known as daruma. These colourful wooden dolls originate from Gunma Prefecture and about 80% of the national production is accounted for in this region of Japan which is just a couple of hours north of Tokyo.
The city of Takasaki is the proclaimed birthplace of the Daruma doll, and there is a quirky temple which holds an annual Daruma Doll Festival attended by over 400,000 people from all over the Kanto Plain who come to buy new good-luck dolls for the year. The temple may be just 20 minutes on foot from Gumma-Yawata Station but as I switched my itinerary around at the last moment I ended up walking for just over an hour from the giant white robed goddess of mercy.
By the time I finally arrived at Shorinzan Daruma Temple I was exhausted but then discovered that I then had to ascend a mountain of steps to reach the actual temple. There was to be no Rocky-like running up the steps! Those coming by car though will be interested to know that there is not only a car park at the foot of the steps but there`s another at the top.
The daruma dolls were instantly evident at the top. They were in abundance too with the main hall of this Zen Buddhist temple being packed full of them.
It`s a fairly simple but spacious religious site set in a calm and quiet environment with just the fresh clean air and natural sounds accompanying you as you wander the precinct and look at the daruma dolls piled up in the main hall.
Even the Covid_19 safety measures included pictures of the daruma doll but that`s probably not such a surprise for a country where mascots or animated characters are used on everything.
The aforementioned festival features a 24-hour reading of sutras by the Shorinzan monks for world peace, and there is a kind of shop at the temple where people can get a special stamp as well as daruma themed souvenirs. It seems like the temple sometimes has daruma painting activities, and there is also a small cafe selling tea and coffee behind the main hall.
A common sight at such religious sites are small wooden plaques known as ema where people write their dreams and wishes on them as a public declaration. The ones hanging at this particular temple were not the usual rectangular shape but special round daruma ones.
There are a few delights worth checking out in this part of Gunma-ken, and this is definitely one of them that is worth a visit if you have the time on the back of seeing the more high-profile sights of Byakue Dai-kannon and Dokutsu Kannon.
- Shorinzan Daruma Temple is located at 296 Hanadakamachi, Takasaki, Gunma-ken. It is open from 9am (8:30 on weekends) till 5pm seven days a week.
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