The Daruma Doll: The Figure For Good Luck In Japan
If you spend some time in Japan you are bound to encounter a unique doll – a red, round, humanoid creature that lacks legs or arms. The doll may or may not have eyes while others have some fancy facial hair. If you knock down this doll it bounces back upright and if you are in luck the doll will grant the grandest of wishes.
The Daruma doll represents good luck and perseverance in Japan. Full of symbolism, the origins of the doll are tied to the highest aspirations of Buddhism. Each year, people buy them and eventually burn them to ashes.
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who is linked to the rise of the Daruma tradition. It is said that the monk loved to sit still and stare at blank walls while pursuing enlightenment. However, some accounts say his legs and arms, which were now atrophied, fell off. Other legends give different accounts but this is the one responsible for the current shape of the Daruma doll.
The origins of the Daruma as an object of persistence and luck started in Takasaki. At first, people that visited the Daruma Temple were given an illustrated lucky charm for the New Year that depicted a sedentary Bodhidharma. However, a growing demand resulted in the practice of handing out wooden molds that people could use for making their own models of Bodhidharma using paper mache. This was the origin of a tradition that stands to this day.
Making and Meaning
The Daruma has a circular, heavy unseen base whose purpose is to allow the doll to quickly right itself if tipped over. The significance of the Daruma is hidden in plain sight. The painted eyebrows resemble a crane and the beard that covers the cheeks represents a tortoise, which are both traditional symbols for long life in Japan.
The sides of the Daruma’s face are painted in gold, spelling out the maker’s preferred message of fortitude and good luck. The bearded chin alludes to the pine tree branches. The red lines that mark the upper lip and the nostrils signify the bamboo and Japanese plum tree respectively.
It is believed that the red color of the Daruma originated with Bodhidharma’s penchant for wearing red robes. Measles and smallpox outbreaks solidified this custom. The God of Smallpox had a thing for the color red and people that had sick children used to dress them in red and hang red ropes around their homes hoping to appease the deity.
Motivation And Procrastination
The eyes are the most interactive and obvious characteristic of the Daruma. On their faces, the dolls have just 2 blank white circles. If you receive or buy the Daruma, you will have to paint or draw a black pupil in one eye when you are making a wish. Once the wish comes true you can fill in the other eye. The tradition is believed to relate to the Buddhist ideal of achieving enlightenment, although the Japanese often wish for more mundane things such as getting promotions or passing exams. One theory for why this works is that the unfinished figurine (one eye filled in, the other blank) nags at us each time we pass it, provided it has been placed somewhere we will see it each day and this prompts or motivates us to achieve our wish or goal so that we can complete the other eye. I first heard of these many years ago and this prompted me to create a paper version that recorded the steps to completion, not just the binary configuration of start / done! For me, that did not give any idea of how far along I was with any project or how near to completion. I did like the idea of the uncompleted eye nagging at me each time I passed it, though, that tends to instil a sense of time pressure, which is handy for some people who tend to procrastinate. What I needed was a visual version that not only reminded me I had an uncompleted project (the nagging eye) but also showed how far I had got with it. This is especially important if you ever suffer from “student syndrome” or “it’s not due for ages syndrome”, that’s where you have plenty of time to complete a project if you start NOW but leaving it until the night before will cause panic, although leaving it for a while builds that time pressure that FORCES you to do something.
Variation and Configuration
The basic traits of the Daruma remain consistent but there are still variations. Some of the dolls are clad in gold, mainly in a business hoping for financial success. The design details in the facial hair also differ as do the sides and the belly of the doll. Various regions also have further color variations while Goshiki Daruma are sets of 5 dolls all in different colors, and pink Daruma resembling “Hello Kitty” have been spotted at various festivals in Japan.
The Daruma is usually burned at the start of each New Year as with many other good luck items in Japan. The burning often happens on the grounds of the temple where it was purchased.
The Daruma can be found in many places and in different sizes. Watch out for them and check whether both eyes have been filled in. If they have been filled in, it could be interesting to find out from the owner what they wished for.
The Daruma doll is a big thing in Japan since it is a symbol of perseverance and good luck. Now that you understand the significance of the doll in Japan, you probably understand why the Japanese have utmost respect for it. Next time you are in Japan, you should consider getting a Daruma doll and you could get your wishes granted.