Odawara Daruma Market

The Odawara Daruma Market, or Daruma Ichi, is a festive marketplace selling Daruma dolls. It is a well-known annual event attracting many matsuri (festival) patrons, held on 17th and 18th December at Iizumi Kannon Temple (Shofukuji Temple). This festival features stalls selling a collection of various sizes of Daruma dolls, charms, traditional crafts, foods and games such as goldfish scooping and air gun shooting.

It was a Saturday morning when I found myself taking a train heading south to the laid-back city of Odawara. The sky grew lighter and lighter; the sun came out and shone down through the window glass. I was gifted with halcyon weather and got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji alongside with other nearby mountains on the right side of the train.

It was almost 10 when the first bus approached the terminal. With a few passengers, I boarded the vehicle. After hopping off the bus, I wandered through the narrow street leading to the sacred site lined with a variety of refreshment booths selling foods like yakisoba fried noodles, Japanese desserts, and crepes. Freshly picked vegetables and fruits were also for sale direct from the people who grew them. The venue was compact, but the event was livelier than what I had imagined.

I walked past the old main gate watched over by the statues of Nio, the muscular guardian of Buddha, and the temple ground filled with stalls selling the Daruma dolls unfolded before my eyes. The dolls came in all sizes and colors; they were armless, legless and had two eyes without pupils.

When purchasers picked up the dolls, the vendors thanked them with “tejime”, a ceremonial rhythmic clapping, and prayed for them. The buyers then made a wish and headed right to the main hall where the monks performed a ritual, reciting a mantra quietly and methodically. Then the holy man drew in a black pupil for one of the eyes. Later, if the owners accomplish the goal or the dream comes true, the second pupil is also added. Then, the Daruma dolls traditionally are returned to the temple to be burnt during this festival.

Before burning the dolls into ashes, the owners say thank you and farewell to the Darumas. One lady said it was not easy for her to part with the old Daruma since it carried precious memories and reminded her about all the hard works. Nevertheless, when her Daruma was well taken care of and burnt in this special ceremony, she felt relieved. I felt really impressed by how much the Japanese have feelings for their lucky dolls.

Moments later, after I was done with the ceremony, I had a solemn lunch, buying food from many outdoor outlets to taste and try. Before wending my way home I did some sightseeing around the religious site and enjoyed the astounding view of Mt. Fuji. It was gorgeous.

For some reason, the number of foreign tourists at this Japanese festive market is still rather low, but if you have the chance, visiting the Odawara Daruma Market is something you shouldn’t miss for a different taste of Japan.

Access: Take the Odakyu Limited Express Romancecar to Odawara Station. Then take bus No.6 for about 20 minutes and continue on foot for about 15 minutes. There are up to three buses per hour on weekends. If you plan to visit the temple in the evening, it’s important that you leave the holy place before the bus’s final departure. Finding a cab at night can be hard.

For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/