Enjoy the festivity, get used to seeing hundreds of “faces” staring at you in the market, look closer and pick your favorite, make a wish, take it to the monk and let him take on the initiation of making your wish come true.
That’s pretty much how it goes at the Daruma-ichi, or the Dharma Market, an annual event, which takes place at Jindai-ji Temple in Chofu, Tokyo. This year's event is scheduled for March 3 - 4. A 15 minute bus ride from Kichijoji, Chofu, or Tsutsujigaoka will take you to the quaint area home to this 1300-year-old temple, where one of the three big Dharma markets in Japan is held. As a festival to both expel evil spirits and call for spring, the market is held every year when the plum trees bloom; a sign that spring is just around the corner.
The market is filled with authentic festival stands (no fake hot dogs!); sweetened apples, cotton candies, grilled squid, rice crackers, and much more, filling the pathway to the entrance of the temple with the smell of soy sauce and sugar blended with the faint scent of plum trees carried by the wind.
As soon as you enter the gate to the temple, you will be blinded by the red; the dharma piled up with high-spirited voices from both the sellers at the stands and the buyers. There is no doubt that the evil spirit is wiped away in an atmosphere filled with much enthusiasm.
With the Dharma you have purchased in hand, go up the stairs where the monks are standing by to color in one of its eyes. Oh yes, by the way, when you purchase those Dharma, they come with no eyes drawn in! The monk will write “a”, or the beginning of the alphabet in Sanskrit, cleanse the Dharma in the smoke and give it a prayer. With that Dharma, you are sure to make your wish come true in the year to come. But that’s not all. You have played your role as well by putting in “n”, or the last of the alphabet in Sanskrit as the second eye next to “a”. This would symbolize the completion of the beginning (of the time you make a wish) and the end (when your wish comes true). There is more. You would want to bring the Dharma back to the temple in a year time to have it burned with the others to express gratitude for Dharma having looked after you to make your wish come true.
With or without the festivity, you can still enjoy Jindai-ji, where it is famous for one of the oldest Buddha statues in the Kanto region, and of course, the cold soba (buckwheat noodles) which you can enjoy within the compound of the temple if not outside. There are over 20 soba shops in the area. On slightly chilly days, oshiruko, or sweet bean soup with rice cakes would also do to make your day complete!
And of course, if you own a goshuin-cho (temple stamp booklet), add another stamp and the brush-written name of the temple from Jindai-ji. Don’t forget to hand your goshuin-cho over to the temple before you pray or make the wish. They will hand it back to you with the stamp and the name of the temple from the very day of your visit, as it is also “proof” that shows that you have completed the visit to the temple.
There is something about Jindai-ji. Step into the “Jindai-ji time-zone” and you will see.