Temple Ground Engulfed in a Sea of Bright Red Daruma

Today we're in Tokyo's Chofu City, visiting the daruma doll fair at Jindaiji temple.
Chofu usually brings to mind the popular manga series "GeGeGe no Kitaro." Shigeru Mizuki, the creator of the series, lives here, and the Kitaro character features heavily in efforts to boost the city's economy. You'll find statues of him and his other yokai (monster) friends in the shopping arcade in front of the train station, and even city buses are painted with pictures of Kitaro kicking a soccer ball, with the slogan "Go For it FC Tokyo! Kitaro is Rooting for You!" What a combination!
A Kitaro Cafe can also be found along the approach to Jindaiji, and is usually a popular stop, but today Kitaro's feature role has been usurped by the daruma. After all, this fair is about them, not Kitaro.

Resisting the temptation to be pulled in by the aroma of noodles frying in sauce wafting from a nearby stand, I make my way through the approach to the temple, but can't help stopping a moment to listen to the sales pitch of a vendor hawking shichimi chili pepper. Finally stepping through the main temple gates, I find myself confronted by a sea of red, red, red. The grounds of the temple are engulfed by a sea of bright red daruma of all types and sizes, from ones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, to enormous daruma that are more than a meter high. Most of the vendors who've set up shop are daruma makers from Takasaki city in Gunma Prefecture, Iwatsuki city in Saitama Prefecture, and the town of Mizuho in Tokyo. There must be more than 300 shops! Still, since the vendors set up their stands in the same spot every year, shoppers have an easier time of it than you might think, and many have been buying from the same shop for a generation or more.

Amongst the more traditional red daruma, nowadays one can also find the so-called feng shui daruma, painted in bright colors and surprisingly popular among young people. Blue is for good fortune in one's career, green for good health, and pink is said to bring luck in love. A geezer like me, though, doesn't want to rely on anything but good old red--somehow I just can't believe my wish will come true with one of the other colors. Personally, though, I'd make an exception for the large yellow daruma I saw, which had only the baseball team name HANSHIN painted on it in big letters.

Once I've bought my daruma, the next thing to do is to get the left eye painted in. Climbing up just past the main temple, I find a special stand set up for this purpose just in front of the Ganzan-Daishi shrine, with a long line in front of it. Here, the monks of Jindaiji will personally paint in the left eye of your daruma, but in a unique fashion--instead of just painting it black, they fill it in with the Japanese character pronounced "a", from the Indian bonji (Brahmi) script. At the same time, they infuse the daruma with the spirit of Ganzan Daishi, who is enshrined in a nearby hall. Ganzan Daishi is another name for Ryogen, an abbot of the Tendai school of Buddhism, famous for his charisma and reputed psychic powers. A year later, if your wish has been fulfilled, the other eye should be filled in with the Japanese character "n", and the daruma dedicated back to the temple; together, the characters "a" and "n" represent the beginning and ending of things. Going through this ceremony, you really start to feel as though your wish might actually come true. If I could just put some of that psychic power into that big yellow "Hanshin" daruma, the team might just... well, I'm just fantasizing, I guess.

One other thing you can't forget on a visit to Jindaiji is their soba (buckwheat noodles). In and around the grounds you'll find 20 or more soba shops advertising Jindai Soba. They charge tourist prices, but since I'd come all this way, I decided to stop in for a bowl of noodles.  It was March, but still cold, so I ordered a bowl of hot nameko mushroom soba. On the table in front of me I placed the little daruma I'd bought earlier, on which I'd made a tiny little wish, just big enough to perk me up a bit if it actually comes true. I hope next year I'll be able to fill in the "n" in my daruma's other eye... but if I can't, I guess I can always visit the Kitaro Cafe and order something from Daddy Eyeball.

Jindaiji Daruma Fair

One of Japan's three major daruma fairs, held annually on March 3rd and 4th at Jindaiji in Chofu City, Tokyo, and popularly known as a harbinger of spring in the Tokyo area. During the two days of the festival, the temple grounds overflow with visitors and ring with the lively sales pitches of the many vendors of lucky daruma that line the roads.

How to get there
●By Train
Take the Keio Line from Shinjuku Station and get off at either Chofu or Tsutsujigaoka Station. From there, the bus to Jindaiji takes about 15 minutes. Alternatively, take the Chuo Line to Mitaka Station, where buses make the trip to Jindaiji in about 25 minutes.

●By car
From the Shinjuku area, take National Highway 20 out of Tokyo, turning right at the Shimofuda intersection. Proceed straight along Mitaka Avenue to the Jindaiji-Shomae intersection, then turn right again and proceed about 500 meters.

Illustrations and Text : Itaru Mizoguchi

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