Shorinzan Darumaji Temple

In Japan, daruma dolls are used by people to make their wishes come true, but many don’t know what to do with them after they’ve served their purpose. After all, you can’t simply toss out a spiritually powerful artefact in the trash. Shorinzan Darumaji Temple in Gunma Prefecture saves people from that dilemma by helping people get rid of their used daruma dolls.

The origins of daruma dolls

shorinzan darumaji - darum doll
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Daruma dolls are traditional Japanese dolls modelled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. These dolls are usually made of paper mache and bear a round shape. Their bodies are weighted at the bottom, much like roly-poly toys, so that they will always return to an upright position even after being pushed. 

The Japanese name for the roly-poly toy is okiagari-koboshi (起き上がり小法師; lit priest who gets up). Its name refers to the act of getting up and rising, symbolising the ability to overcome adversity or any obstacles in one’s way. The daruma doll itself also symbolises good fortune and is a popular method of making wishes. 

One makes a wish by first painting in one of the daruma’s empty eyes when making said wish, and then dotting in the other eye when the wish comes true.

This practice is well-known among both locals and tourists, with many buying daruma dolls every year. 

Shorinzan Darumaji Temple, the birthplace of the daruma

shorinzan darumaji - darum shrine
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Built in 1607, the Shorinzan Darumaji Temple is purported to be the birthplace of daruma dolls. Today, the temple has an entire legion of daruma dolls decorating the premises, and it has been famous for selling these lucky charms since the 19th century. 

shorinzan darumaji - darum collection
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Although red is the most common daruma doll colour as it invites general good fortune, dolls of all sorts of sizes and colours litter the temple grounds, making it a picturesque location for tourists and locals alike to take aesthetic photos.

Daruma bonfire at Shorinzan Darumaji Temple

There is a common belief in Japan that good luck charms such as omamori (cloth amulets), daruma dolls, and ofuda (paper talismans) lose their effectiveness and power after a year. Therefore, you are supposed to return them to the temple or shrine where you obtained them – the monks at the temple or shrine will then help you put those charms to rest in a ritual bonfire.

shorinzan darumaji - darum fire ritual
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Every January, Shorinzan Darumaji Temple helps to facilitate the disposal of used daruma dolls by holding a daruma bonfire, also known as daruma okiage, so that people can safely dispose of old daruma dolls and buy new ones in time for the new year. 

New year new me, they say.

This bonfire is the biggest in Japan, and attracts thousands of people who want to witness all those daruma dolls go up in flames. 

shorinzan darumaji - fire ritual
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What’s special about Shorinzan Darumaji Temple is that they accept daruma dolls that were purchased at other temples or shrines if their owners are unable to make a return trip to the original location. All they have to do is show up at Shorinzan Darumaji Temple with their daruma.

People can also mail their used daruma dolls to the temple for the monks to add to the bonfire if they really cannot make a trip to the temple, provided that they give the monks ample notice. 

Getting to Shorinzan Darumaji Temple

While it may seem a little cruel to dispose of your daruma dolls in such a harsh manner after all that they’ve done for you, using fire in a ritual according to Japanese culture helps to cleanse items. Your daruma dolls are in good, safe hands.

Address: 296 Hanadakamachi, Takasaki, 370-0868 Gunma
Opening hours: 9AM-5PM, Daily
Admission: Free admission
Telephone: 027-322-8800

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Cover image adapted from: @phaengy

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