Home to some unusual rotund inhabitants.

Daruma are a well-known symbol of good luck in Japan. These rotund dolls, shaped so they tilt but don’t ever fall over, are modelled on Bodhidharma, the monk credited with founding Zen Buddhism.

It’s said that Bodhidharma meditated while staring at a wall, eventually plucking his eyes out when he blinked after years of open-eyed meditation. His limbs were said to have fallen off after years of immobility, but the monk persevered throughout, and the daruma tells the story of this perseverance with its no-eyed, no-limb appearance.

▼ People who own a daruma fill in one of the blank eyes by drawing in an eyeball whilst making a wish. If that wish is fulfilled, they paint the other eye in.

Image: Pakutaso

Daruma are available all around Japan, but one place is widely acclaimed as their birthplace, and that credit goes to Shorinzan Darumaji Temple in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture.

Shorinzan Darumaji is filled with countless daruma, and it offers some unique hands-on experiences like daruma-painting for visitors. It’s a fascinating destination that’s a little ways off the beaten track, but it’s well worth the journey to get there.

▼ The temple is around a 20-minute walk from Gunma Yawata Station.

You can catch a bus to the temple from the station, but they’re so infrequent that you may have to wait about 90 minutes for one, so walking is always a good option.

▼ When you’re surrounded by the beauty of the countryside, a 20-minute stroll passes by in no time.

This region prides itself on the daruma, so you’ll be able to spot them at various points on your walk, like here on the side of a bridge.

After crossing the river, it won’t be long before you arrive at the main gate of the temple.

Once you step through the gate, you’ll be greeted by a long, steep set of stone stairs.

Once you’ve climbed those stairs, you’ll be greeted by…another set of stone stairs.

This is a great spot to stop and cleanse your hands at the chouzuya purification trough.

▼ Once you’ve climbed that last set of stairs, the main hall awaits.

The main hall is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of daruma, in all sorts of colours and sizes.

The daruma are stacked on top of one another, making them look like plushies on display at a Japanese game arcade.

It’s truly a sight to behold, but the main hall is just the start of the daruma experience.

After visiting the shrine, make your way over to this large daruma, and you’ll find…

▼ …a gacha capsule toy machine filled with daruma omikuji!

Omikuji fortunes are always randomly sold at shrines and temples, so a gacha machine makes perfect sense as a purchasing system.

It’s rare to find an omikuji gacha machine, though, and what’s inside is equally rare.

For 400 yen (US$3.03) a pop, you get a daruma in a random colour, and an omikuji to go with it.

Unravelling your fortune can reveal varying levels of luck, ranging from good…

▼ …to bad, like this one!

If you do receive a bad fortune, no need to worry — simply tie it up at this designated spot and let the gods take care of it for you.

Let those worries disappear even further by heading over to the daruma store, where you can take a seat and make your own daruma.

Choose your favourite size and colour at the counter — small daruma are 800 yen and large ones are 1,200 yen — and you’ll be given a paintbrush, some paint, and some instructions to help you create a personalised daruma of your very own.

As well as their blank eye sockets, daruma have a number of other defining characteristics, including eyebrows, which are shaped like two cranes, and a beard, which resembles two turtles, both auspicious signs of longevity.

▼ Feel free to express your own interpretation of the beard and eyebrows when making your creation.

Daruma are always special, but making your very own in the birthplace of the daruma adds another layer of uniqueness that’ll bring a smile to your face when you display it at home.

A visit to the temple where daruma are said to have originated makes for a truly unforgettable experience. It’s not every day you get to see this many daruma in one location!

Darumaji is open year-round, but one of the best times to visit is January, when otakiage, one of the temple’s annual events, is held. Otakiage is a memorial service for old daruma, where the two-eyed dolls that have brought wish fulfilment to their owners are burnt in a large bonfire.

It’s a grand event that’s visually striking, and will make a visit to the birthplace of daruma even more memorable.

Temple information
Shorinzan Darumaji Temple / 少林山 達磨寺
Address: Gunma-ken, Takasaki-shi, Hanadakamachi, 296
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (weekdays); 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (weekends)

Images: SoraNews24 unless otherwise noted
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