The Daruma Temples of Kyoto and Osaka

The Daruma Temples of Kyoto and Osaka


2020.05.24

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

The Daruma Temples of Kyoto and Osaka

Anybody who has visited Japan before has no-doubt come across a Daruma or two while on their travels, with their unmistakable looks and a wide presence across the country, they’re pretty hard to miss! The bright red dolls, often with intricately painted details in the face are a popular souvenir for travelers to Japan to take back home. But what exactly is a daruma, and where does this quirky character synonymous with Japan and Buddhism actually come from?

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    Daruma

    A typical Daruma Doll with all the classic markings on its face including cranes for eyebrows and turtles for facial hair. These two animals have long represented longevity in East Asian culture.

    A typical Daruma Doll with all the classic markings on its face including cranes for eyebrows and turtles for facial hair. These two animals have long represented longevity in East Asian culture.

    Daruma are much more than just a slightly-amusing-souvenir to take home from Japan, they are in fact considered powerful good fortune charms of sorts, and many Japanese buy them at the start of the year, to look over them and bring good luck for the coming twelve months.

    When first purchased, Daruma have two blank white eyes. The owner of the doll fills the Daruma’s right eye in with black ink, while making a wish for the year ahead (usually something along the lines of success at school, in an exam or at work), with the implicit promise that they will fill in the second eye once the Daruma has granted their wish.

    Daruma are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism and Zen tradition in both China and Japan. There are various stories surrounding Bodhidharma and his journey from the Asian continent to Japan, including tales of him losing his arms and legs, and even cutting off his eyelids, all in his quest to reach enlightenment through self-sacrifice and perseverance.

    The round shape of the Daruma is supposed to represent a being that is impossible to tip over, tilting them always results in the Daruma swinging back to its original, upright position. This is considered a reminder to those on a quest to find good fortune that no matter how hard the obstacles you face are, you must persevere, and always stand back up in order to achieve your goals!

    Daruma are made in towns across the country, although the town of Takasaki in Gunma is considered the home of Daruma craftsmanship in Japan

    Daruma are made in towns across the country, although the town of Takasaki in Gunma is considered the home of Daruma craftsmanship in Japan

    Some towns have their own unique take on the Daruma doll, with interesting and unusual facial features that can’t be found elsewhere

    Some towns have their own unique take on the Daruma doll, with interesting and unusual facial features that can’t be found elsewhere

    The odd Daruma can be found here and there in the corners of temples up and down Japan, but occasionally you can stumble across whole temples dedicated to the little guy! These places are often jam packed with Daruma of varying shapes, sizes and designs, from all corners of the country. With that being said we would like to introduce you to two of our favorite Daruma Temples, Horinji and Katsuo-ji, in Kyoto and Osaka respectively.

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    Horinji Temple, Kyoto

    Horinji in Kyoto is a fairly small Temple, but don’t be fooled by its size, inside you will find stacks of Daruma across a wide variety of styles and designs!

    Horinji in Kyoto is a fairly small Temple, but don’t be fooled by its size, inside you will find stacks of Daruma across a wide variety of styles and designs!

    Welcome to the slightly eery, but wholly fascinating Horinji!

    Welcome to the slightly eery, but wholly fascinating Horinji!

    You are welcomed by a rather strong and distinguished looking Daruma at the entrance of the main hall

    You are welcomed by a rather strong and distinguished looking Daruma at the entrance of the main hall

    Horinji is a Buddhist Temple belonging to the Rinzai Zen sect. It was originally constructed in 1727, but underwent some refurbishment after WW2 in 1945. It is located in the quiet backstreets of northwest Kyoto, close to Enmachi Station. It is a rather unknown temple, meaning it is a great place to escape the crowds that Kyoto usually attracts. Horinji is reffered to simply as Daruma Dera (Daruma Temple) by the locals.
    There are two buildings, both of which house approximately 8000 Daruma dolls, of varying shapes, sizes and designs, from across Japan. This is an excellent place to see the rich and varied styles of Daruma that are made in different parts of the country. There is also a small zen garden located behind the temple, allowing for a peaceful escape from the busy streets of Kyoto.

    With approximately 8000 Daruma dolls on display at Horinji you can find some great examples of Daruma from remote parts of Japan

    With approximately 8000 Daruma dolls on display at Horinji you can find some great examples of Daruma from remote parts of Japan

    The ceiling of the Shuseido building has a huge painting of Daruma (unsurprisingly) painted by the famed Daruma artist Higuchi Bunsho. He did this particular painting aged 83

    The ceiling of the Shuseido building has a huge painting of Daruma (unsurprisingly) painted by the famed Daruma artist Higuchi Bunsho. He did this particular painting aged 83

    A small alter inside the Shuseido building has an unusally lifelike representation of Bodhidharma

    A small alter inside the Shuseido building has an unusally lifelike representation of Bodhidharma

    The zen garden, which is situated behind the temple has a few Daruma randomly placed along the way, including this one from Yamagata, which is made of wood, unusually

    The zen garden, which is situated behind the temple has a few Daruma randomly placed along the way, including this one from Yamagata, which is made of wood, unusually

    The Daruma dolls at Horinji range in height from very small to almost human height. There is also a collection of wood carvings, stone statues and paintings depicting Bodhidharma in various forms, including some by the famous Daruma painter Higuchi Bunsho, who dedicated his life to painting tens of thousands of Daruma for various temples.
    For a small fee, one can also buy a Daruma ink painting to stick inside a Goshuincho (book of signed/stamped seals from temples).

    A Daruma ink painting inside a Goshuincho book

    A Daruma ink painting inside a Goshuincho book

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    Katsuo-ji Temple, Osaka

    The main gate that leads to Katsuouji Temple

    The main gate that leads to Katsuouji Temple

    The main hall at Katsuouji Temple, take a closer look and you soon realise the place is crawling with miniature Daruma dolls, placed on almost every available surface and in every little nook and cranny!

    The main hall at Katsuouji Temple, take a closer look and you soon realise the place is crawling with miniature Daruma dolls, placed on almost every available surface and in every little nook and cranny!

    Katsuouji is made up of several buildings, all of which are covered in Daruma dolls

    Katsuouji is made up of several buildings, all of which are covered in Daruma dolls

    The stairs that lead to the main temple are flanked by large spaces where people drop their old Daruma off when they buy a new one for the new year

    The stairs that lead to the main temple are flanked by large spaces where people drop their old Daruma off when they buy a new one for the new year

    In the mountainous north of Greater Osaka, sits Katsuo-ji Temple, considered somewhat of a mecca for lovers of the Daruma!

    Katsuo-ji, literally translates into Japanese as the “Victory Temple” and is popular among those looking to pray for victory in any number of endeavors - from passing school tests and acing job interviews, to completing driving tests and winning at sports. No triumph is too great or small! Purchasing a Daruma here while you’re at it is said to increase your chances of victory substantially… however just coming to see the Daruma is also an interesting, very popular and fun activity!

    The temple was originally built in the year 727 by two brothers on what was considered by the locals a very spiritual mountain. Some years later Prince Kaisei, the son of Emperor Konin, joined them as a student of Zen Buddhism. From here the temple grew in size and popularity attracting a number of pilgrims and powerful figures from around the country.

    Over the following years many heads of clans would visit the temple to pray for victory in war, a tradition that continued for hundreds of years. In more modern times, the temple has lost its image of being a place to pray for wartime victory, and became a place to pray for victory and good luck in general. Daruma dolls are thought to have been present here for many decades too, although there is little recorded history of when they first arrived.

    Inside one of the smaller buildings at Katsuo-ji Temple

    Inside one of the smaller buildings at Katsuo-ji Temple

    The walls of the temple are lined with Daruma looking in every which direction!

    The walls of the temple are lined with Daruma looking in every which direction!

    Stone lanterns line the approach to the temple, the lanterns are littered in small Daruma dolls

    Stone lanterns line the approach to the temple, the lanterns are littered in small Daruma dolls

    The stairs that lead to the main temple are flanked by large spaces where people drop their old Daruma off when they buy a new one for the new year

    The stairs that lead to the main temple are flanked by large spaces where people drop their old Daruma off when they buy a new one for the new year

    Unlike at Horinji above, where there are Daruma dolls from all over the country, The Daruma on display at Katsuo-ji  are all similar in design

    Unlike at Horinji above, where there are Daruma dolls from all over the country, The Daruma on display at Katsuo-ji are all similar in design

    The grounds of Katsuo-ji are quite extensive with a number of areas good for exploring, the surrounding scenery is also well worth the visit!

    The grounds of Katsuo-ji are quite extensive with a number of areas good for exploring, the surrounding scenery is also well worth the visit!

    Aside from the seemingly never-ending trail of Daruma dolls, Katsuo-ji is also a great place to take in the surrounding nature. It has a variety of cherry trees in the spring, followed by alpine roses, hydrangeas and other flowers in the summer and exceptionally good seasonal colors in the autumn.
    There is also a 4 km long hiking trail that connects Katsuo-ji to the nearby Minoo Park and its 33 meter-high waterfall. This makes for a great combination of things to check out in the area, and often a much-needed break from the bustling streets of Osaka.

    The waterfall inside Minoo  Park is a popular spot to sit and relax, they also have stalls selling food and drink

    The waterfall inside Minoo Park is a popular spot to sit and relax, they also have stalls selling food and drink

    The park has a well maintained walking path that takes you through an abundance of nature

    The park has a well maintained walking path that takes you through an abundance of nature

    To access Minoo Park  from Katsuo-ji takes roughly 40 minutes by foot

    To access Minoo Park from Katsuo-ji takes roughly 40 minutes by foot

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