The Making of a Daruma Doll

What is a daruma doll made out of?  Ask me and I’ll say something about papier mache, which sounds so much better in its original French than the literal English translation of chewed paper!
Beyond that I really had never seen anyone make one.  I was curious to know more about the process involved in making daruma, and I’ve also been wanting to get some Japanese language practice watching Japanese videos on youtube.

How to Make a Daruma Doll: An Inspiring Video Showing Traditional Methods

In researching about how to make a daruma doll, I came across a very well done short video produced by a Japanese company in Japanese. It’s one of many interesting installments in a series they’re chosen an English name for, ‘The Making.’

The episodes are both entertaining and educational and show how various things are made. This episode features daruma dolls and is 14 minutes long.  It uses Japanese subtitles to illuminate the steps shown without any spoken words. The only audio is a pleasant soundtrack.  So it happens to be very accessible even if you speak no Japanese at all.

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The first 3 1/2 minutes of the video shows how to make a daruma doll by hand, and the video was shot at Shorinzan temple in Gunma Prefecture, also known as ‘daruma-ji.’

The temple was a natural location for this video because it’s considered the birthplace of the Takasaki daruma doll. These are the most famed daruma dolls in Japan and the local city of Takasaki still is a major producer, accounting for about 80% of Japan’s daruma dolls! The red daruma doll below is an example of the work of Taksaki City’s craftsmen.

You’ll notice that a key component of the handmade method in this video is a daruma to use as a form on which to base the shape of the new doll.  So if you don’t already have a daruma doll to use in this way, it’s not practical for the beginner who wants to make their own daruma doll.  Still, it’s quite interesting and shows quite clearly how daruma dolls have been made over the centuries, before more mechanized methods came into use.

At the 3 1/2 minute mark the focus shifts to more modern methods of mass production, and this takes up the bulk of the show.  Notice that the facial features are still painted by hand, even with the modern approach!  One of my favorites parts was watching the craftsman so deftly adding the characteristic facial hair to the dolls!

Kyoto Collection is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means I earn a small amount of money every time you click on a link I provide and purchase something on Amazon. It will be put to very good use the next time I take my family to the neighborhood revolving sushi joint, and we thank you!

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Originally posted 2017-03-16 15:01:50.

Daruma Dolls: How Long Can I Keep Mine?

What do you do with a Daruma doll after you’ve achieved your goal and colored the second eye?

It’s a good question, because there is indeed a protocol for daruma dolls, and for good luck charms in general, and a daruma doll offers itself as a wonderful window onto interesting aspects of traditional Japanese culture.
But at the same time, as you’ll see, there’s no need to feel compelled to do any particular thing, and the key is to act according to your own feelings.

Traditional Farewell

Daruma dolls are associated with New Year’s in Japan and are usually bought at this time. 12 months later at the start of the new year they’re taken to a temple where they’re ceremonially burned in a ceremony called Daruma Kuyou, and a new one is bought.

So If you happen to live near a Buddhist temple that has such an event and you are so inclined, you might take advantage of it. This is a sort of memorial service that offers a chance to reflect on the year that just ended and express gratitude for the good things it brought.

It’s a poignant way to usher in a new year of possibilities, and perhaps to buy a new daruma doll, too! As with other Japanese charms, simply throwing it in the trash is inappropriate.But having said this, parting with your daruma doll is only an option, not a requirement.

The subject of dolls in this context brings hina dolls to my mind as a contrast. Hina ningyo are the set of dolls including an emperor and empress and their court that are displayed at home by families with daughters for Girls’ Day, which is celebrated on March 3rd.

As lovely as the display is, you’ll be very challenged to find any still out after March 4th, as according to tradition, families that don’t put the dolls back in their storage boxes by the 4th risk late marriages for their daughters.

Keep Your Daruma Doll if You’d Like!

Daruma dolls don’t come with any such caveat and can be kept and displayed indefinitely, if you so choose.

One cozy little Kyoto restaurant that I frequent has one rather large daruma on a shelf on permanent display for each year they’ve been open. It’s a fun way for them to commemorate their years in business and show appreciation to their customers for their shop’s longevity.

Obviously they have no fear of incurring bad luck by keeping their menagerie! Now that they’ve been in business for a dozen years or so, they have quite an impressive row of daruma dolls standing sentinel. It won’t be long before they need another shelf!

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We visited Kyoto’s Daruma-dera (Daruma Temple)recently. As the name implies, it’s a temple known for its collection of daruma dolls, and there are over 8000 of them.  I took the two photos below as we strolled the grounds.

The priest’s wife mentioned one parishioner who kept the same daruma doll for some 30 years, not wanting to part with it. In the end, it was placed in his coffin before his cremation.

This underscored for us her belief that there are no hard and fast rules with this, and the story and the beautiful way in which she took the time to relate it to us gave me a deep sense of her focus on the spirit that the dolls are meant to convey rather than details.

So if you prefer to hang onto your daruma doll after a year has passed, you should by all means do that. One thing to remember is this-display your daruma doll in a place where you can see him, so that you’ll be reminded to take steps, however small, toward the goal you had in mind when you gave him his first eye.

He will serve as a gentle reminder of the principles that bring happiness, which is much more valuable than any luck. This is really where the Daruma’s true power lies, after all.

Kyoto Collection is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means I earn a small amount of money every time you click on a link I provide and purchase something on Amazon. It will be put to very good use the next time I take my family to the neighborhood revolving sushi joint, and we thank you!

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Originally posted 2017-03-14 15:17:38.

Daruma Dolls: History and Meaning

What is a daruma doll and what does a daruma doll represent?

These distinct, diminutive figures are said to have been created with Bodhidharma in mind. He was a monk who lived in the 5th or 6th century, and is recognized as the founder of the zen sect of Buddhism.

I took the photo below at ‘Darumadera’ temple in Kyoto, which is also well known for its collection of daruma dolls.

Gazing at this beautiful work,  I imagined the typical daruma doll, with only its face visible, the rest of it resembling a priest’s robe. Because the doll’s countenance is its most distinguishing feature, it’s easy to overlook what’s framing it.  But when you realize that a daruma doll is cloaked in such a robe, it’s easier to grasp its origins.

Daruma Dolls and Zen

Zen Buddhism has garnered attention in the west as a means to cultivate mindfulness. Formal sitting meditation is but one aspect of this training.

In general, it promotes a greater awareness of what’s going on around you, of the reality that exists outside of ourselves and the narrative that our thoughts create, and the resulting lenses that we see the world through.

In this spirit of seeing what is in front of us, I’d like to offer up a simple exercise-take a moment to really look at a daruma!

It occurred to me in writing this that though I have seen hundreds of daruma dolls over the decades of living here in Kyoto, if asked to make a cursory drawing of his face from memory or describe it, I would have little confidence in my ability to recall anything clearly aside from his eyes and his robe!

Facial Features

Daruma dolls made in the traditional way feature a face framed by ample eyebrows and a beard. There’s an understated line representing his mouth that gives him a stoic look, and his robe is embellished with bold but simple brush strokes, often in gold.

Red daruma dolls at Daruma-dera temple in Kyoto.

I’ve read that if you look carefully at his stylized facial hair you’ll find cranes in his eyebrows and turtle shells on his cheeks. That very well may be, and I went looking in his eyebrows for cranes and found them, one on each side-then I found others!

So I ended up wondering what I was seeing and what I was imagining! Maybe I’ve found a new use for daruma dolls-as rorschach tests!

Cranes and turtles are both symbols of longevity in Japan, with the crane said to live 1000 years and the turtle 10,000 years. This makes them very common symbols in Japanese art, especially in connection with auspicious occasions like weddings.

Meaning

Take a look at a daruma doll-what do you see? It’s believed that daruma dolls were introduced in the 1700’s by a priest at a temple in order to satisfy his parishioners’ desire for new charms. As a talisman, there are different ways to look at a daruma doll.

Some might color in an eye and make a wish in the same way you’d make a wish when blowing out the candles of a birthday cake.

I can’t remember being disappointed when such a wish didn’t come true, because I never even deeply thought about what I would wish for before the cake was set in front of me. And I knew that I wasn’t committing myself to doing anything to help to make the wish come true.

Personally, I think that having a daruma doll can be a great way to buoy yourself up when you’re striving to attain some goal that you’ve chosen thoughtfully and are committed to working toward attaining.

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The reason for this lies in the doll’s association with an often used Japanese proverb, ‘nana korobi ya oki’ which translates as ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight.’ It’s represented in kanji characters on the poster below.

fall_down_seven_times_stand_up_eight

This saying has its roots in zen and quite pithily conveys the essence of zen in its message of perseverance in the face of adversity, resilience, and a stoic commitment to seeing something through.This dedication infers a focus on the present moment and what we can make of it.

Poke a daruma doll and you’ll see why it has become so associated with this saying. Though it might look unstable at first glance and easy to topple, it comes right back up. You can’t keep it down.

I’m about to date myself and American pop culture references can’t do justice to the wisdom and beauty of the expression above. But it does somehow take me back to a TV commercial that I must have seen a thousand times in the 70’s…… weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!

I’ve taken part in some meditation sessions and at times a priest would circulate among us ‘sitters’ and stop at times to hit someone on the shoulder with a piece of wood. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt, but it certainly does tend to bring you back to the moment.

Daruma dolls are very useful for goal setting and achievement as reminders of the goal we’ve set for ourselves. We take the time to clarify the goal and to imagine achieving it when we color in the first eye, and put the daruma doll in a place where it can be seen(and where it can see us!). Over the next year, it serves as a physical manifestation of the commitment felt on that day when a pupil was drawn in that blank space where eyes should be.

And as far as goals go, these days daruma dolls come in a rainbow of colors, which each color purported to help you focus on a specific sort of goal. Gold, for example, predictably is the color of choice if money is what you’re after.  Check out the link to my post about other color meanings at the end of this post.

Let the daruma doll remind you of that as you use your days to challenge yourself by devoting time and effort to your goal, no matter how uphill the process feels at times. And just remember that for better or worse you won’t be pulled back to your focus with a sudden whack on your shoulder, but with a watchful eye!

Kyoto Collection is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means I earn a small amount of money every time you click on a link I provide and purchase something on Amazon. It will be put to very good use the next time I take my family to the neighborhood revolving sushi joint, and we thank you!

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Originally posted 2017-03-13 15:16:37.

Daruma Dolls: Which Eye First?

Which eye should I color first? It’s only after you’ve already bought a daruma doll and are cradling it it one palm while gazing into its curious countenance that you’re likely to consider this question.

Which daruma doll eye should I color first?’ Daruma are sometimes sold without eyes painted on them, and the pupils are filled in by the owner. The first is added when you decide the goal you want to enlist the doll’s help in attaining. You fill in the other when you’ve reached it.

The Left Eye…..?

Many sources say that you should color the left eye first. And by this, by the way, they mean the doll’s left eye, not the eye that is on your left as you face him. Knowing this important detail will certainly clarify things if you saw such advice online and were wondering whose left it was referring to!

But now that I’ve cleared that up, I’m going to say something that makes it moot. Because in fact, it doesn’t matter which eye you color when you make your wish or goal.

Even though I’ve lived in Japan since 1997 and have colored my share of daruma doll eyes, I wasn’t really sure which pupil should be filled in first until I started writing this article, as I assumed there was a right and a wrong way to do this and I’d forgotten which eye I’d chosen in the not so recent past!

What’s Important

Takasaki Daruma

For the answer, I went straight to the horse’s mouth. In this case, since my daruma doll itself was mum on the subject, that means I checked with an organization of daruma doll makers called Gunma Daruma Doll Manufacturers’ Cooperative Union.

Gunma is a prefecture that includes Takasaki City, where about 80% of Japan’s daruma dolls are made. On their English website the association notes the prevailing advice about the left eye, but goes on to refute it by saying that ‘there is no correct order of painting eyes on a daruma doll.’

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The black daruma doll below is said to ward off evil and is a fine example of the work of Takasaki City’s craftsmen. The kanji and hiragana characters written vertically on a red base in the photo are read as ‘Takasaki Daruma’. You can buy it and others on amazon.

For good measure I went to Kyoto’s Horin-ji Temple.  There are actually two temples with this name in Kyoto. This one is most commonly known as ‘Daruma-dera‘ which means ‘Daruma Temple.’ 

The other Horin-ji Temple is in Kyoto’s Arashiyama area and has no special connection with daruma dolls. So if you make a plan to go to see the daruma dolls here, it’s best to refer to this temple as Daruma-dera, which is what the locals call it. The 8,000 or so daruma dolls there will soon make it clear you’ve found the right place!

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We had a wonderful chat with the priest, who was busy with his daily chores but took the time to show us a sublime life-size reclining Buddha statue and an intricate scroll which depicted the Buddha’s passing. Then we enjoyed some time with his wife, who was manning the small office at the entrance.

The photo below shows some of the ema prayer plaques on a board just inside the entrance. You can read more about the history of ema in an article I posted here.

I noticed that many of the daruma dolls for sale there already have both eyes colored in and have specific focuses, such as protecting against traffic accidents and as writing this article has stirred up many questions in my mind, I asked her for her thoughts on the significance of the dolls.

She gifted us with a heartfelt expression of her hope that people focus more on the important message that the daruma represents, rather than on trivial things like which eye gets colored. She mentioned the tradition of coloring the daruma’s right eye first(the left eye as you’re facing it), but in the next breath discounted its significance. She impressed on us the importance of intention and spirit and I was struck by her humility and warmth, which seemed to exemplify the true spirit of dharma.

Color the right eye when you get it? Fine. The left? Fine. Buy your daruma doll with the eyes already colored? Perfectly acceptable. Color the eyes purple with long lashes? Inspired! Keep it rather than returning it to the temple where you got it after a year? Why not!  What a wonderful afternoon. We left feeling invigorated and grateful to both of them for sharing their home and hearts with us.

Kyoto Collection is part of the Amazon Associates program, which means I earn a small amount of money every time you click on a link I provide and purchase something on Amazon. It will be put to very good use the next time I take my family to the neighborhood revolving sushi joint, and we thank you!

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Originally posted 2017-03-11 15:21:48.