Saturday, 18 January 2014
Annual Daruma Market
Do you remember when I have told you that daruma dolls are an important symbol of the New Year? I do not know if you have ever heard of them before but to be honest, until I came to Japan I had no idea what a daruma was. Luckily, recently my hosts took me to the annual daruma doll market at the Shorinzan temple in Takasaki so I was able to find out more about them.
Although it is called a "doll", it's not really a toy at all. Rather, it's a symbol of good luck, good fortune and perseverance. That's why a properly made daruma is a tumbler-doll. When you push it over, it will right itself up, similar to a Russian vanka-vstanka. If you talk to a Japanese person about darumas, you will most likely hear the phrase "nanakorobi yaoki", which is traditionally translated as "seven times down, eight times up". Now you see where the symbol of perseverance comes from - you should always get up, just like your daruma doll.
The origin of daruma is a bit complicated. Have you heard of the Zen school of Buddhism? That branch of Buddhism was founded by a guy known as Bodhidharma back in the 5th or 6th century. He was usually depicted as a wide-eyed barbarian with a massive beard. You can see the obvious similarities in the faces of daruma dolls, right?
But how had a long-dead, ill-tempered Buddhist monk become a Japanese symbol of good luck? It all started at the Shorinzan temple, also known as "Daruma-dera" (daruma temple) in Takasaki city, in what is now Gunma prefecture.
You see, the Japanese are a superstitious bunch and proud of it. And the belief in talismans and good luck charms is still going strong now, in the 21st century. So you can only imagine how important such magical charms were back in the ancient times. Every year you needed a new charm to keep you lucky and strong that year, and the priests at Shorinzan saw in this an amazing business opportunity.
And the business opportunity continues to this very day. Every year, on January 6th and 7th, the temple, known as the "daruma temple" all over Japan, holds the largest daruma market in the country. And because even to this day, the majority of Japanese daruma dolls are produced in the city of Takasaki (where the temple is located), you can easily imagine, that this market is a super big and super important event.
This year, it was estimated that around 400 000 people visited the market to buy new daruma dolls, and dispose of the old ones. And, of course, I was there, as well.
The market is held at night. Which in winter can be a very trying experience. We bundled up, parked the car about 2 km away from the temple (the area around the temple is closed to traffic during the market) and started a long walk in the freezing night.
Reaching the temple was only the first part of the journey. The second part was getting in line and patiently waiting your turn. Because the temple is located on a hill, the only way to get there is by a multitude of stone steps. And crowds, even as well-behaved as Japanese crowds, and steps don't mix. Luckily, the police were at hand very efficiently dividing the waiting masses into groups of about 100 people and letting them go up.
What could you do during the waiting time? Dispose of your old daruma doll! A special tent was set up along the road to the temple, where you could leave your old doll. Later, those old dolls will be burned in a special, ritual fire.
After about an hour of waiting, we finally got close to the temple gate.
You can just about see the steps leading up - that's our destination. Don't lose your footing going up - there are about a hundred people marching along with you on those narrow, steep stone steps. If you slow down or slip, it's going to have quite unpleasant consequences.
After the first batch of steps, guess what you see? Yes! You got it! More steps. When we finally got to the main temple building we were out of breath and sweating.
First, we prayed. I've already learned how to pray the shinto way, but I had no idea how to do it Buddhist style.
Turns out I didn't need to worry. You just get up close to the collection box, toss some money, and wish for whatever's in your heart. Easy! With our spiritual duties completed, we could finally explore what the market had to offer.
And it offered darumas. More and more darumas.
And even more darumas!
Some of these darumas are ridiculously expensive, they can cost up to the equivalent of almost 400 dollars! Can you believe it? Spending 400 dollars on a good luck charm? I'd say you already have plenty of luck, if you can afford it.
So what was the difference between all the different darumas we saw? As I learned that night, different manufacturers have their own signature designs. The basic shape, of course, is the same. The difference is in the face.
And guess what? All those darumas as still made and painted by hand! You can also see that they are not painted completely - the eyes are left blank. The tradition is that you fill in one eye when you get your daruma and decide on a task you want to accomplish, and the other eye - when the task is completed.
All your purchases had to be wrapped properly, and some shops even had their own signature daruma bags.
After the evening filled with shopping and food, it was time to brave the steps again. This time it was easy - we were going down.
All this climbing has made me hungry. Luckily my hosts have told me it is time to investigate some Japanese festive food. I could not agree more!