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Daruma Dolls: Kanji and Color Meanings

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In sitting down to write about the rainbow of colors that daruma dolls come in these days, I'm reminded of a TED talk by the author Malcolm Gladwell called 'Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce' that related the story of a consultant, one of Mr. Gladwell's personal heroes, who has been hired by various companies over the years to identify consumer taste preferences. 

What was so interesting about the talk was the revelation that the genius of Howard Moskowitz is that he realized that the very notion of the perfect Pepsi or Prego sauce was was ill conceived.  Instead of searching for the holy grail in terms of taste profiles, companies came to see that there is no perfect Pepsi, but rather perfect Pepsi's. There's no one formula that will make the multitudes happy.  So why not offer a variety to serve various preferences and through that, increase market share?  Curious, I went to Prego's website and counted at least 40 kinds of pasta sauce!


Red Daruma Dolls

Red is traditionally the color most associated with these dolls, and I'd bet that it's still the most popular one for dolls sold in Japan.  Red is an auspicious color that some believe has the power to ward off evil spirits, disaster and illness.  The traditional red daruma is said to be modeled on Buddhist priest robes. Shinto too seems to venerate this color, as torii shrine gates through which parishioners pass are either red or vermilion.

Red is a celebratory color in Japan and carries with it numerous positive connotations. When people turn 60 in Japan, they celebrate their 'kanreki' by donning a jaunty red vest and cap to mark the occasion, which is seen as a sort of rebirth and return to the beginning of the life cycle. Red also has strong associations with victory, which is why political candidates choose red daruma when they’re running for office.

I'm partial to red daruma, so I bought the small one pictured below the other day when we went to a Kyoto temple known for daruma dolls that's called Daruma-dera. It has a hole drilled in the bottom with an 'omikuji' fortune paper inside, and it's sitting on my table watching me at this moment!

Red daruma invite good fortune in the most general sense, so if you like red and want to go the traditional route, it's always a good choice.  Mine has eyes that are already painted and a splash of festive hues in a floral pattern that gives it a cheery look.


Other Colors and Their Meanings

If you gravitate toward another color or have a specific goal in mind and want to put a finer point on things, there are daruma of various hues that will be happy to call your house their home. Sometimes they're sold in sets of five different colors, each with a specific power. Such sets are called goshiki daruma. The word goshiki literally means ‘five colors.'

Some colors and their qualities are:

Purple-health and longevity. Purple is a regal color that is associated with the imperial line, and it’s connected with such qualities as character and integrity.

Yellow-as with gold, there’s an expected association with financial good fortune as well as a more general connection to good fortune.

Gold-wealth and prosperity. The obvious choice of color when career advancement and economic gain are in sharp focus.

White-the color of choice for students studying for rigorous school entrance exams that are such a common and stressful rite of passage in Japan. More generally white is associated with goal attainment.

Black-success in business ventures. A good color for entrepreneurs.

Blue-success in school and the development of the intellect.

Silver-promotes self-awareness and self-development. Expectant mothers also sometimes choose silver because it’s said that it makes an easy delivery more likely.

Green-physical health. Also the development of talent and skill. This ties into the connection between the color green and plants budding, and calls to mind the English expression 'budding talent.' 

Orange-couples who want children choose this color and it also offers protection against disaster.

Peach-this is a color of love and attracts romance and passion.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as I've seen mention of different shades of blue and green, etc.! The furoshiki wrapping cloth below is one that's available in my store and it features just a few of the colors that daruma dolls now sport.

Daruma Doll Kanji Meaning

The three daruma dolls depicted on the fabric above happen to not only have different colors, but also different kanji characters written on them. The red one has the most often seen character, pronounced 'fuku.'  This refers to good fortune in a general sense, which is why it's so common. The yellow daruma specifically attracts money, and so it includes the character for money, 'okane.' The purple doll has a character read as 'kotobuki' which is often used for weddings and other special occasions, as it carries the meaning of long life and longevity as well as congratulations. The two characters in the middle of the rising sun in back of the dolls are pronounced 'kai-un' which is another way to convey a message of good fortune.  These two characters in fact are also sometimes written on daruma dolls as well.

What color is your daruma doll?

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