Daruma dolls are one of Japan’s most popular good luck talismans. You’ve most likely come across them before as they’re displayed wherever people wish for good luck. The symbol of the Daruma doll is also one for perseverance.
Because of this, you might have seen people get tattoos of these dolls on their bodies, or possibly seen the faces of the Daruma dolls on artworks and such.
What are Daruma Dolls?
The Daruma dolls are small rounded dolls that come in various sizes and thus are sold at various prices. They’re created with a slightly rounded bottom/stand which is designed to make it difficult for them to topple over.
This embodies its symbol of perseverance and the famous Japanese proverb: fall down seven times, stand up eight.
Aside from the usual keyrings, magnets and sweets, Daruma dolls make a great little souvenir to take home. It’s got centuries of Japanese history behind its design and shape and make for an interesting story if anyone were to ask you about them.
If you don’t plan to come to Japan soon and still want to get a Daruma, we have you covered! We just added beautiful Daruma dolls into our online shop. 3 colours are available at the moment:
Daruma Dolls – The History Behind The Legend
The full history behind the Daruma dolls is a slightly murky but super interesting one. The first recorded information of Daruma Dolls dates back many centuries ago, when the believed founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, brought the religion to China.
He journeyed across the country until he found a suitable cave to meditate in, in which he stayed in for the next nine years. He meditated day in day out in the same seated position without breaks.
Bodhidharma almost made it the entire time without closing his eyes except for one time during the seventh year. In frustration, he cut off his eyelids so that he could never close them again. On top of that, his limbs withered away after all those years in a deep-seated position.
As the Daruma doll is modelled after Bodhidharma, you will notice these little details when you come across one.
The Different Colours
The most traditional colour that Daruma dolls are painted is red. Legends believe that Bodhidharma’s robes were red and this inspired the colours of the dolls.
However, over time people began to get creative with the dolls and paint them in various colours.
Again, red is the traditional colour of these dolls and tends to symbolise good luck and perseverance. Purple is believed to symbolise health and longevity; yellow for money security; white for education luck; gold for wealth and prosperity.
In saying that, many locals believe that the red doll will suffice for any wish.
These days, you will be able to find sets of 5 of these dolls for little pockets of luck across everything!
The Eyes of Daruma Dolls
One thing you will notice about Daruma dolls is that initially their pupils are not painted onto the dolls themselves. Each doll is hand-crafted so no two will ever be the same, however, the eyes will always be two white blank slates.
This is because of two reasons: it was modelled after Bodhidharma, who had removed his eyelids; and it is for you to bless the doll upon purchase and begin the journey of gathering your luck.
Once you purchase and bless the doll, you will need to paint on one eye yourself. The wish that you bought the doll for will be assigned to it. Every time you see the doll you will be reminded of your goal and not lose your way.
Once the wish comes true and your goal is achieved, you will paint the other eye on. You will then write the wish at the back of the doll and return it back to the original temple for burning.
Aside from initial blank eyes, Daruma dolls actually carry quite a few unique characteristics.
You will notice that the body of the dolls do not have any limbs; there are no arms, and it sits on a rounded surface. This is meant to reflect the period in which Bodhidharma lost his legs and arms due to intense ongoing meditation.
The face of Daruma dolls can also be characterised by their eyebrows and moustache. Whilst exaggerated and almost comical at first, if you look deeper at them, you will understand their meaning.
The eyebrows on a Daruma doll generally reflect silhouettes of cranes. The moustache on a Daruma doll is shaped like a turtle. In Japanese culture, both of these animals represent longevity.
Katsuo-ji, the Temple of Daruma Dolls Near Osaka
The beautiful temple of Katsuo-ji is renowned for three things: its good luck, its incredible collection of Daruma dolls, and its breathtaking Japanese garden.
Katsuo-ji temple was originally given the name Katsuo-ji (meaning “win against the king”) because it was believed that praying there miraculously helped the emperor recover from his illness. However, due to the boldness of the statement, the character “king” was replaced with the character “tail”. Both of these are pronounced quite similarly in Japanese.
The first thing you will notice about Katsuo-ji is the abundance of Daruma dolls scattered around the temple. There are picturesque displays set up near the entrance and small singular dolls perched on random gates.
The luck experienced by the emperor here has led Japanese people to believe that it is lucky grounds, and so the Daruma dolls exist here to enhance the luck.
The Daruma dolls at Katsuo-ji are called katchi-daruma, or winning daruma. If you’re in the market for some dolls as souvenirs, this is a great place to stock up. They sell them in all sizes and colours!
The gardens of Katsuo-ji are definitely worth checking out as well. Throughout the year, the scenery changes drastically, offering picturesque backgrounds to complement the grand structures. Many types of flowers bloom here at different times of the year, and in autumn the grounds become awash with bright foliage.
If you’re interested, the temple is located just outside of Osaka city. If you’d like to read more about Katsuo-ji temple, check out our detailed article here: Katsuoji temple >>
Daruma dolls are a distinct part of the Japanese culture, one that many tourists happen upon but never really know much about. We hope this article has enlightened you on a bit more about Japanese history!
The dolls themselves represent a source of good luck and prosperity, but as a souvenir, they make adorable little reminders of your time in Japan as well as allow you to take a piece of the Japanese culture home with you.
If you are looking to know more about Japanese culture, you can also read these blog posts: Omamori, Koinobori, Furin, Japanese Ema and Maneki Neko.