Festival Focus: Daruma Kuyo (Tokyo)

Happy Setsubun, readers! Today is the unofficial start of spring here in Japan, a day that is heralded with demon asks and copious bean throwing.

I have written about Setsubun before, and indeed spent part of my afternoon attending the bean throwing festivities at Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple. But before that, I also made a trip out to the northeastern section of Tokyo to experience Daruma kuyo.

Daruma, or dharma, are dolls that are bought by people when they want to ask for luck in business or make a wish in general. The dolls, mostly red in color but also appearing in other hues, have two blank white ovals where the eyes should be. When you make a wish, you color one of the eyes black. When your wish comes true, you color in the other eye and then take your daruma doll to a temple to be disposed of properly.

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Carrying a daruma doll to the ceremony
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Dolls waiting to be burned

In Tokyo, that temple happens to be Nishi-Arai Daishi Temple, a temple that dates back to the 9th century. Every year on Setsubun, the priests hold a solemn ceremony before sending off the “completed” daruma dolls in a flaming pyre. Two men dressed as mountain priests blow conch shells and light the stack of dolls with long torches. The priests all chant for quite some time and then the fire is left to burn itself out under the watchful eyes of the Tokyo Fire Company.

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Priests light the pyre
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Daruma dolls burning

You can also buy new daruma dolls for the coming year at the temple, and a bean throwing (mamemaki) takes place later in the afternoon. When we were there today, some of the cherry trees were already in bloom (I think they were kawazuzakura, the earliest species to bloom near Tokyo) and the plums were looking lovely as well. The grounds of the temple are quite extensive and worth taking some time to explore.

The temple sits right outside Daishimae Station and the ceremony takes place every Feb 3rd at 11:30am (though it’s always good to check in with the local tourism office to clarify before heading out there).

5 thoughts on “Festival Focus: Daruma Kuyo (Tokyo)

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  1. That must be a huge fire! What do you do if the wish doesn’t come true? That could sometimes takes years or never happen. I love these traditions. We should probably also burn something representing fears. When I was in 1st grade I starting worrying about the ‘Holy Ghost’. Sister Immaculata must have talked about it in school. Apparently she didn’t do a very good job. I didn’t remember anything HOLY. All I remembered was that scary bird that came down on us. My mother had me draw it. It was black and mean looking. She took the picture and burned it on the stove. She told me that it wouldn’t scare me anymore and it didn’t. I bet the Japanese already have a ceremony for things like this.

  2. How cool! About 10 years or more ago I got my husband (then boyfriend) a daruma to use before he took a black belt test. He was able to paint the other eye–omedetou! 😉 I didn’t know about this festival. I bet it’s really neat to see!

    1. Congrats to your husband on the achievement! That’s awesome! And the festival was rather cool, and not too crowded, despite being such a short distance from famous sites like Tokyo Skytree.

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