On the last leg of our trip to Kanto, we were lodged at the Toyoko Inn at Takasaki. Over the last couple of days, Takasaki proved to be a great base for visiting places we had on our bucket list, around Tokyo in the Kanto region.
The town is itself famous for the tradition of the Daruma dolls used as a talisman for good luck. The Daruma doll is a hollow, rounded traditional Japanese doll with large eyes, modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. These dolls are typically red in color but can also come in different colors.
We were leaving for Nagano today and Mani couldn’t stand to leave without a Daruma of her own, so we set off for Shorinzan Daruma Temple (少林山達磨寺), the birthplace of these Daruma dolls in the Takasaki countryside.
Train to Shorinzan Daruma Temple
One can either take the bus or the train to Shorinzan Daruma Temple. We had our rail passes with us, so we used the train. If one is planning to use the bus, they should note that the buses are at long intervals so covering multiple places in a day might not be possible.
From the Takasaki Station, we took the local to Gumma-Yawata Station along the Shin-Etsu Line. It’s just a couple of stops away and hardly takes about 10 minutes. From the station, though it’s a 1.5 km walk to the temple. It was a lovely sunny day, so we didn’t mind.
There are directional arrows along the way so it’s not hard to find, though personally I always prefer using Google Maps.
On the way we crossed Toyooka Bypass national highway, beside which there is a large Daruma for guiding visitors like us towards the temple.
A few minutes across a small river brought us at a crossroad from where the path started to go uphill.
Up the hill, we went past many thatched houses before reaching up to a clearing. From here, a long series of stairs lead up to the main temple. It was 9 am but the temple grounds were mostly empty.
Shorinzan Daruma Temple
After climbing the steep stone stairs, we reached the main temple precinct.
A guy was sweeping the grounds as we walked towards the main temple. The ground is covered with small pebble stones. A large number of Daruma dolls lay gathered at the front of the main temple building.
Shorinzan Darumaji is a temple belonging to the Zen Buddhist Obaku School. The Ōbaku’s approach to Buddhism is tinged with a hint of Chinese influence. The sect is about disciplining the mind and experiencing truth and does not believe in idol worship.
Every year on the 6th and 7th of January during the Nanakusa Festival, a “Daruma Market (Daruma Ichi)” is held on the temple grounds. Many gather here every year seeking the divine protection of the temple’s deity through its lucky charm, the Daruma.
To the left, a bunch of Ema (wooden plaques for writing prayers ) in the shape of Daruma are hung, where visitors can leave their prayers.
Beside the temple, a tiny shop sells Daruma dolls as well as charms of all kinds featuring the dolls. Mani bought one for herself.
The dolls come with no eyes, only one eye or both eyes drawn. This is because the Daruma doll is sold with no eyes and you draw the first (usually its left one, though I’ve seen some with only its right eye painted) as you ask for a wish. At the end of the year, if the wish has been achieved, you draw the second eye.
At the start of the year, one is supposed to bring the doll back to the temple. During a ceremony called daruma kuyô, these dolls are burned together after giving thanks to the Daruma.
Shorinzan Daruma Museum
To the left of the shop there is a small one-room museum. At the gate a huge life-sized Daruma greets visitors inside the museum.
The small but well curated museum and presents an astonishing variety of Daruma dolls, and also a collection of exquisitely carved wooden statues representing the legendary founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma. Photography is not allowed inside the museum.
After some time we went back down the stairs to the garden.
The temple’s gardens are a quiet place to relax. There is also a small summer-house (Senshintei) designed by the German architect Bruno Taut in the early Showa period (1926-1989). The stairs to it were blocked maybe because of repairs. A Jizo stands in a corner beside the stairs.
In those days the Daruma was created as a prayer to help the suffering farmers during times of famine. After wandering around the garden we walked back to the Gumma-Yawata Station.
We were back at Takasaki in no time. At Takasaki, we had some time on our hands before the next scheduled train to Nagano, so we treated ourselves to some souvenir shopping.
It was an interesting trip to the Shorinzan Darumaji. I love how most cities in Japan have an identity of its own. Not only is it a beautiful and clean country, the rich historical heritage and the way they have protected it is worth mentioning.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found it interesting and informative. As always, please leave your comment below or follow my journey to the most lovely Matsumoto Castle.