This weekend I’ve been working at Language Show Live, a big language expo in London. My organisation is there to represent Japanese language, and we’re sharing our stand with JP Books – a London-based retailer of Japanese books and other items.
At the Language Show, myself and a colleague had to do a presentation about kami-shibai – a traditional method of Japanese story-telling with pictures. The morning before the presentation, I made some offerings and prayers to Inari-sama to ask her for her support. The presentation went well, so I think Inari-sama may have been listening!
I also took the opportunity to treat myself to some things from JP Books’ stand – namely, some Japanese incense and two miniature daruma dolls.
Japanese incense is a little different to the Indian variety that’s more familiar in the UK. For one thing, the sticks are pure incense – there’s no “core” in the middle that sticks out that you can insert easily into standard incense holders. This not only makes Japanese incense rather brittle, but also makes it a little harder to find a good place to burn it because it won’t fit most standard burners available in the UK. Fortunately, these ones I bought (from the brand Morning Star which is actually based in Hong Kong) come with their own tiny holder, so that’s not an issue. Japanese incense also tends to be shorter and have a shorter burning time than Indian incense.
However, what I do like about Japanese incense is that the fragrance is always very “clean” – there’s no underlying pesticides or anything else as far as I can tell, which always seems to be a problem with Indian incense. You can pretty much guarantee that Japanese incense is going to smell good and not be too overwhelmingly heady. I’ve bought Amber, Cedarwood, Lavendar and Fig scents, and so far I’ve really liked them.
Daruma dolls are a sort of cross between a toy and a good luck item in Japan. Based (bizarrely enough) on Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, the daruma dolls are weighted so they always stand up again when knocked over, like a weeble toy. They’ve therefore come to represent resilience and determination. They are also used to make wishes. A newly purchased daruma will have two blank eyes; to make a wish, the owner draws a pupil in one eye. When the wish is granted (or a goal achieved), the owner draws a pupil in the other eye to thank the daruma. Traditionally, one buys a daruma on New Year’s Day, and then brings it back to the temple where it was bought the following New Year so it can be ritually cremated.
I actually several daruma dolls now (I don’t want to cremate them as they’re not easy to get outside Japan!), and I actually use my oldest one as a prop during presentations about Japanese. My husband and I plan to use the two new daruma dolls to make our own wishes at New Year, and no doubt I will be displaying my full daruma collection on my altar around Yule.