Setsubun is an event celebrated with much fanfare across Japan to welcome spring. Typically, roasted beans are thrown out the door or at a family member wearing an oni (demon) mask. People from all walks of life also gather at temples to receive beans that are tossed by celebrities like professional athletes and TV personalities. With the last vestiges of winter clinging onto the air, Nishiarai Daishi Temple's additional Daruma Kuyo ceremony provides much needed warmth on a chilly February morning.
Nishiarai Daishi Temple is the only temple in Tokyo to hold Daruma Kuyo, the burning of thousands of Daruma dolls, since it began in 1954. The dolls, which are usually red with intense faces, are considered good luck charms for health and business. After the old Darumas have been turned into ashes, people buy new ones for the coming year. A new Daruma generally has both eyes unpainted - with one eye painted after making a wish, and the other once the wish comes true.
In the late afternoon, Setsubun commences and the atmosphere transforms into one akin to a sold out concert. Considering that Nishiarai Daishi Temple is one of the "smaller" locations in Tokyo, it is safe to say that more renowned locations like Sensoji Temple in Asakusa draw twice or thrice the number of people.
Despite its humble location in the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo, Nishiarai Daishi Temple remains a special place to be on Setsubun mornings for the Daruma Kuyo. It speaks volumes when you see foreign tourists arrive way before time to reserve the best views on a cold Saturday morning.