The Maebashi Hatsuichi (meaning first market) Festival is an explosive way to start the year.
The highway nearby is closed to cars and stalls are set up, ready to sell lucky trinkets and festival food — think all the fried Japanese food you love. You can also see the rare sight of a daruma bonfire. It has a long history dating back 400 years and so is very popular amongst the locals.
What are daruma?
Daruma are round Japanese dolls designed to represent the founder of Zen Buddhism Bodhidharma. Every year, people purchase dolls and fill in the pupil one of their eyes (the right one) with black and make a wish. When that wish comes true, they fill in the left side. Once the daruma have completed their purpose, many take their dolls to shrines at the beginning of the year to set them alight.
You can even throw your daruma on the pyre if they haven’t fulfilled your wish — that’ll show them — but you still need to fill in the eyes.
At 10 a.m. on the day of the festival, the daruma will be burned at Maebashi Hachimangu Shrine. Stalls and other events, such as a portable shrine possession, will take place on the closed National Route 50 outside the shrine with most stalls open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
How to get there?
Both Maebashi Hachimangu Shrine and the highway are around a 10-minute walk from Maebashi Station. If you are coming from Tokyo, you can get the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Takasaki and change to the Ryomo Line.
Cheapo tip: They say that the more you haggle for the price of your daruma, the luckier you become — a Cheapo motto we stand by.