Right after the start of the new year, instead of hurrying towards the exit of the over crowded temple compound I made my way towards the main building to try and find the ritual pyre. Most bigger shrines and some temples arrange a pyre where they burn the talismans, votive plaques and good luck charms or any other things related to religion that people want to throw away. In Japanese this is called Otakiage (お焚きあげ), It’s considered very bad to simply throw out religious objects in the common garbage, instead people give their objects to these places where staff will keep they pyre going for as long as necessary. In some places it is over in an hour or so but I was told that this fire would be burning until the next morning as they had over a ton of items, books and wooden objects to burn. When one of the staff members carried a huge daruma doll towards the fire I just had to take a picture of it. The daruma doll is a talisman that you get in order for it bring you success in a special endeavor. When the endeavor has been accomplished it is time to pass the daruma forward by having it burnt at your temple or shrine. Another thing commonly burnt are the long wooden prayer sticks you find at graves.
Last week I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days in Gunma prefecture north of aitama north of Tokyo. Any trip to Gunma from Tokyo passes through the city of Takasaki, but this time around I only had a few minutes while waiting to change trains. Gunma is the prefecture with the highest car to human ratio and if you take a look at the last of these photos it becomes a bit obvious that this is a good place to drive. The station itself had a huge daruma doll in the central passage. The biggest one I have ever seen. Takasaki is also the home of two of Japan’s most famous steam trains, and many people come here just to see them and get the limited edition charcoal black daruma. I didn’t get one unfortunately. The Gunma tourist board is currently running a campaign to get tourists from the Kanto area to visit. Normally Gunma doesn’t rank highly for tourism but now that many people are avoiding the north east they might have good chance to attract more tourism. I was offered an unusually helpful guide pamphlet in English when I arrived. Hopefully it will be useful for foreigners travelling up north!