Luck Dolls and Trust Tests

We had quite a week here in Japan; on Monday the Kansai area experienced an earthquake that left several injured and at least 4 dead. I was fortunate in that I live in Kyoto and was not on a train or anywhere near the epicenter when it happened; the worst I endured was a sudden, loud BANG followed by the sudden rocking of my apartment building–though I will say, that left me huddled in my doorway for several minutes after, eyes wide, clutching my phone.

After that, getting out of the house and enjoying things to take my mind off of the potential for aftershocks was a necessity. So when a friend suggested that we go and check out Daruma Temple, I readily agreed to the outing.

Daruma Temple, otherwise known as Horin-ji, is a Buddhist temple famous for the over 8,000 daruma (lucky dolls often used for wish-making) donated to it. If you take the 203 bus to Enmachi Station, it’ll cost you a grand total of 230 yen and require 5 minutes of walking from there.img_1947

Once inside, you’ll initially wonder at the name; the only thing indicating its’ true nature is the cute little sign just outside with a familiar red doll drawn on it. But pass the little omamori (protective charms) stand and take a left, and you’ll be confronted with more than you were prepared for.

A sampling of what we saw.

We spent several minutes wandering around the temple, snapping pictures. On a weekday around lunchtime, there wasn’t a single other soul in the area. The area with the daruma dolls was free to enter, but there’s a garden and main hall that require an admission fee of 300 yen. We decided we wanted to check it out, so looked for someone to pay.


Unfortunately, no one was around. There wasn’t even someone manning the omamori stand, and when we rang the bell for the temple, no one answered.

We were free to come and go as we please and, if we had felt like it, we could have easily walked away with plenty of little things from that shop.

Of course, we didn’t. We ducked down to a nearby Thai restaurant for lunch, and when we went back an hour later a kindly older gentleman had appeared and was more than happy to sell things to us. When we mentioned we’d been there earlier, he apologized, saying he’d slipped away to grab lunch too. And that was that.

As someone who comes from the United States, the idea of leaving one’s place of work–especially when you have valuable items lying around–is hard to imagine. Even more so is the idea of leaving it completely unlocked to allow strangers to wander about without supervision.

No doubt there were security cameras, but this is one thing that continues to boggle my mind, no matter how long I say here–the inherent trust people have that their fellow man won’t do something as disruptive as stealing or damaging property while your back is turned.

The little stand where you could buy stuff.

The Daruma Temple, while a great example of this, is not the only incident where I’ve observed this. If you spend any length of time in Japan, you’ll see it in action, particularly if you go to a cafe or fast food restaurants. People will walk in, drop off their bag or wallet to mark their seat, then go and buy something to eat or drink. If they go to the toilet, some people might grab their wallet, but I’ve seen phones, laptops, and other expensive items just left lying on the table or desk.

I’ve even had it happen to me; when I was studying abroad in Japan, I used the computer lab at school, then ducked outside to meet up with a friend. Over two hours later, I realized I’d forgotten my sweatshirt back in the computer lab. Upon returning, I was mortified to learn that it was there, all right–sitting on the chair that I’d used when I was last there. Not a soul had touched it, and it was clear no one had used it while I was gone!

Have you experienced something similar? Do you have a daruma doll at home?

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