What are the Daruma?

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Have you ever come across round-shaped red dolls in Japanese souvenir shops? They are called “Daruma” and have been an integral part of Japanese culture since ancient times. They are a symbol of good fortune and perseverance in Japanese society, and the Japanese find spiritual meanings in these auspicious dolls.

How and where were daruma dolls born? What is their meaning and how are they traditionally used by the Japanese? Here we bring you the clear answers to all these questions about daruma dolls in Japan!

1. What are the Daruma?

Daruma comes in all sorts of sizes.

Daruma are traditional Japanese dolls revered as a symbol of good fortune, success, and perseverance for centuries in Japan. Traditionally, daruma dolls are made of paper, usually painted red, and have no arms or legs. The body is round in shape and the two eyes remain empty when you buy them. Daruma dolls are often found in souvenir shops or at traditional festival stalls held at Buddhist temples in Japan.

Daruma dolls come in a variety of sizes, and many international tourists find them perfect as memorable souvenirs to take home. However, if you don’t really know the history and meaning of daruma dolls, you will never understand why this iconic doll has been an integral part of Japanese culture for so long.

2. History of Daruma

Daruma are sold without painting any of their eyes.

Daruma are inspired by an ancient Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, said to have been the founder of Zen Buddhism and lived in the 5th century. Born and originally raised in India, he brought the teachings of Zen Buddhism to China. According to legend, he spent nine consecutive years meditating while sitting against a wall. As a result, he sadly lost his limbs in exchange for achieving enlightenment after years of intensive training. The round shape of the daruma dolls with no legs or arms represents his weakened body.

It is believed that during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) daruma dolls became popular among the common people in Japan as a symbol of good fortune. Daruma dolls began to be produced all over Japan, with some special regions such as the city of Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture, which is well known for its production of daruma dolls. The red color of the Daruma doll would have two origins. One of them comes from the legend that Bodhidharma wore a red robe. Some people also associate the color red with fire, blood, and the sun, which are believed to ward off evil spirits.

3. Meaning of Daruma dolls

Many temples throughout Japan display daruma

As you can imagine from the unique round shape, daruma dolls are designed to maintain their upright position at all times. This is because they are underweight so no matter how many times you try to knock them down they always bounce back to the same stance. This characteristic of Daruma dolls embodies mental toughness, patience, and perseverance that are considered essential to achieving life’s goals.

While some people enjoy them as the perfect cultural ornament to display in the home, daruma dolls play an important role in reminding us of the importance of never giving up on achieving dreams or goals in our lives.

4. How to use Daruma dolls

Paint Daruma’s eyes for a wish!

Traditionally, the Japanese buy and use daruma dolls when they want to set goals and achieve them. Following these simple steps below will help you achieve your goals with the support of this auspicious charm!

Stage 1: Buy a daruma doll

As we mentioned earlier, daruma dolls are easily found in souvenir shops, festivals, or Buddhist temples throughout Japan. If you find your favorite on your trip to Japan, get it and put it somewhere in your room where you will see it often, like on a shelf or table.

2nd step: Make a wish and paint any of the eyes.

Daruma dolls have unpainted eyes when sold in stores. After buying them, you must paint one of their eyes black when you make a wish. There are no special rules, but it is more common to start with the left eye and leave the right eye unpainted. Don’t fill both eyes until you have achieved your goals or your wish comes true!

Step 3: Last step! Once you’ve reached your goals, complete the other eye.

Once you’ve achieved your goals or fulfilled your wish, it’s time to finally paint the other unfinished eye! After that, you can keep it at home or take it to the temple where you bought it. Many Buddhist temples collect used daruma dolls and burn them properly.

5. Daruma in modern Japanese culture

Sometimes Daruma can even be fancy colors.

There are unique festivals and events, as well as Daruma venues throughout Japan that are deeply associated with Daruma dolls. The most popular include the Daruma Doll Fair at Jindai-ji Temple, Tokyo, and the Shorinzan Darumaji Temple in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. Kitain is a Buddhist temple in Saitama Prefecture that is famous for the Daruma festival, which takes place on January 3 every year.

Many Japanese buy daruma dolls as a lucky charm that protects them from trouble and accidents. In traditional Japanese restaurants, shops, or ryokans, you’ll sometimes see daruma dolls displayed at the entrance as a symbolic figure believed to bring good luck with money. These daruma dolls are sometimes painted yellow or gold, which represents the color of money and wealth.

If you love Japanese pop culture like amines and comics, you’ve probably come across unique characters made from daruma dolls. One example is “Kashira” (it means heads in Japanese), three strange green heads that appear in a famous Ghibli movie known as “Spirited Away”!

Daruma dolls are easily found in many kinds of stores throughout Japan, usually at reasonable prices, so people hardly find any special meaning or value in them. However, what we must not forget is the fact that daruma dolls produced in specific regions are made by professional artisans who are passionate about their work. They have preserved traditional techniques for centuries, making this beautiful craft even more special and meaningful in Japanese society.

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