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JAPAN: Gunma (Takasaki/ The Daruma Capital)

Approximately sixty-two miles north of Tokyo is the city of Takasaki. It is easily accessible within an hours’ time from Tokyo Station via the Joetsu Shinkansen. The city is home to Shorinzan Darumaji, the temple where the daruma doll originated. It is said that the daruma doll is modeled after the famous Buddhist priest who sat meditating for so long that his legs atrophied and fell off. Hence, the daruma doll maintains an egg-like shape.

The daruma dolls are typically red, range in size from about 2.5 inches to 30 inches and serve as a talisman for good luck. They are a symbol of perseverance and often a popular gift of encouragement. They are traditionally purchased in the beginning of each New Year without the pupils painted on. One pupil (left) is painted on when a wish is made and if the wish comes true, the second pupil (right) is added. This ritual is called kaigen, or the opening of Daruma’s eyes. At the end of the year, regardless of the outcome, the doll is returned to the temple where it is burned.

The city holds its annual Daruma-Ichi (Daruma Fair) on January 6th – 7th, attracting over 400,000 people. During this event, there are the countless booths set up on the temple grounds selling new Fuku-Daruma dolls produced by local families. It is here where many Japanese families purchase their dolls for the New Year and have them blessed.

Next to the temple there is a small, one-room museum dedicated to the daruma doll. It is filled with daruma dolls of all types including some very rare antique ones. You will also find packets of daruma instant ramen noodles here!

If you do not want to visit the temple, you can purchase your daruma doll at the omiage (souvenir) shop at Takasaki JR Station. They are available in all different colors. The station also sells daruma eki-bento (train station lunch boxes). These make rather cute keepsakes and some of the bento containers even come in likenesses of the popular Hello Kitty character.

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Web page:                                           http://www.city.takasaki.gunma.jp/

Shorinzan Darumaji web page:         http://www.daruma.or.jp/eng/index.html

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