Hōrin-ji is a small Buddhist temple of the Rinzai Zen Myōshin-ji school, located in a quiet neighborhood in the northwest of Kyoto. Better known by the name of Daruma-dera, this temple’s major attraction is its incredible collection of about 8,000 donated daruma dolls, which represent the Zen patriarch Bodhidharma (“Bodai Daruma” in Japanese). In addition to all the dolls, ranging from tiny to nearly human height, the devotion to Bodhidharma is evident in the numerous paintings, wood carvings, stone statues, and even the architectural details of the temple complex itself. Visitors pray here for long life and happiness, as well as for protection from illnesses and misfortune. Hōrin-ji also has a small Zen garden, offering a peaceful haven away from the city bustle.
Better known by the name of Daruma-dera, this temple’s major attraction is its incredible collection of about 8,000 donated daruma dolls, which represent the Zen patriarch Bodhidharma.
Daruma-dō (Bodhidharma Hall)
Built in 1945 with donations from the temple’s worshippers, Daruma-dō houses a large part of Hōrin-ji’s daruma collection. Right from the entrance, daruma dolls and sculptures in all shapes, sizes, and colors – dominated by red – greet the visitors with dozens of round eyes. The whole image may be somewhat perturbing to the unprepared, but have no fear: daruma dolls are good luck talismans, and the paper strips affixed to the larger figures are personal wishes of the devotees.
Daruma is the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, who is venerated as the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Inspiration for the daruma dolls comes from his usual portrayal as a bearded man in a red cowl with his head covered.According to one legend, when Bodhidharma traveled to the famed Shaolin temple, he spent nine years meditating in a cave, facing the wall, but fell asleep some time during the seventh year. Outraged at this failure, he tore off his own eyelids, which is why many of his classical depictions show him with very round, protruding eyeballs. Another version of the story relates that after years of wall-gazing in a seated position, Bodhidharma’s arms and legs atrophied, and this is why daruma dolls are round figurines with no limbs. Importantly, self-righting daruma dolls always return to their position after tumbling, and in this way symbolize perseverance in the face of life’s ups and downs and strength in the time of adversity. As the saying goes, “If you fall down seven times, get up eight times.”
Circling through Daruma-dō is a great opportunity to see how varied the Japanese daruma dolls can be. The painting on the hall ceiling, unsurprisingly also depicting Daruma, was done by Higuchi Bunshō, the most prolific Japanese artist specializing in drawing Bodhidharma. He made this picture when he was 83 years old, and it was his 40,500th drawing of Daruma!
The two-story hall with its bright vermilion color is the more eye-catching building at Hōrin-ji. Its first floor contains the major part of the temple’s vast daruma collection, as well as intricately carved wooden statues of the sixteen arhats (saint-like figures in Buddhism). They are positioned quite high, but it is easy to appreciate the difference in their clothing, postures, and expressions. Make sure not to miss another ceiling painting of Bodhidharma by Higuchi Bunshō here.
Shusei-dō is a rare case where visitors are allowed to go to the second floor of a temple building. Another wood carving of Daruma stands at the door, but the most prominent object in this hall is a life-size, gold-plated recumbent wooden statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, dating back to Azuchi-Momoyama period more than 400 years ago. It is widely believed that touching this statue and then touching one’s own body, followed by prayer, helps attain wisdom, virtue, and longevity.
Curiously, one of the sections of the second floor contains around 140 mortuary tablets and several hundred obituaries for film directors, producers, actors, and other people whose activities helped Japanese cinematography flourish since its early days, which is why the hall is also called Kinema-den (Cinema Hall). Initially, the head of Kyoto’s Nikkatsu Uzumasa Studios, Hirohisa Ikenaga, created a place to enshrine their spirits at his own house back in 1940, but because of the war they were moved to Hōrin-ji with permission from the temple’s high priest.
Built in 1718 and completely restored in 1983 using keyaki (zelkova) wood, the main hall of Hōrin-ji is adorned with daruma roof tiles on the outside and houses calligraphy works, as well as wall and screen paintings depicting various episodes from Bodhidharma’s life and pursuit of knowledge. The spiritual message of Hōrin-ji, famously written by the high priest Getsu Razan from Enkaku-ji temple in the Ryūkyū Kingdom (present Okinawa) around the 15th century, is also featured here: “Like the turning of the wheel, the spreading of Buddha’s teaching must never stop, the practice of Buddhism must never cease.”
The Mujin-tei Garden (Garden of Infinity) at the southern side of Hōrin-ji’s main hall may be small, but it still gives a feeling of serenity in the middle of a busy city. As a “garden of the ten bulls”, it incorporates one of the earliest metaphors for meditation, which is a primary practice of Zen Buddhism. Originally, the “Ten Bulls”, or “Ten Ox-Herding Pictures”, is a series of short verses and pictures that illustrate the stages of progression towards enlightenment: the ox-herd symbolizes the self, and the search for the ox shows the path ultimately leading to absolute truth. A stone from the Kibune river resembling a bull can be found at the right edge of the garden, representing the third picture of the set. An actual figure of a bull stands on the wooden walkway of the main hall.
Hōrin-ji was founded by a Rinzai Zen monk named Daigu Sōchiku in 1718. The construction of the temple complex took ten years and was completed under the head priest Mankai Jigen in 1727 with financing provided by Araki Iemon, a prominent merchant in the Muromachi district. In this aspect, Hōrin-ji differs from other temples in Myōshin-ji school, as the majority of them were financed by samurai families. The principal object of worship of the temple is Shakyamuni Buddha. Its bell tower houses the “Benten Bell”, praised for its beautiful sound, which is the work of a well-known blacksmith and metal caster Fujiwara Kunitsugu from the Tokugawa period.
The temple had its ups and downs since its founding and fell victim to three natural disasters, but was rebuilt every time. When the 10th high priest Gotō Iyama took his position in 1933, he focused his efforts on reviving the temple’s practices, and the following year he published Hakuin Oshō Zenshū (The Complete Works of Priest Hakuin), popularizing the teachings of the influential Zen master. High priest Iyama also managed to locate the lost tombstone of Hakuyūshi, a legendary hermit said to have lived for more than two hundred years in a cave in the mountains to the north of Kyoto in the Shirakawa area. The tombstone is now kept at Hōrin-ji.
After the war, Hōrin-ji built the Daruma-dō hall with contributions from its parishioners in 1945, and also opened a dōjō to practice Shōrinji Kenpō, which increased the temple’s recognition in Kyoto and throughout Japan. The annual Daruma Setsubun ceremony, held in February, is particularly popular and attracts many visitors, both young and old.
February 2nd – 4th
|Daruma-ki (Anniversary of Bodhidharma’s Death)|
- General Admission: ¥300
- General Admission: 09:30 – 16:30
- Closed: Never