Daruma Dolls: Motivation For Your 2024 Goals | CoolJapan

If you’ve ever visited Japan at least once and looked for souvenirs to bring home, you might have encountered Daruma dolls on one of your shopping trips. These distinct red round dolls are sold almost everywhere as it is a huge part of Japanese culture — but what exactly are they and why are these dolls so popular?

Daruma dolls

Daruma dolls are distinct red round figurines sold in most places. (Photo from: Pexels)

The history of Daruma dolls

Daruma dolls have been around for centuries. It is believed that the Daruma dolls we now see with their particular round silhouette emerged during the Edo era (1603-1868). The Takasaki Darma from Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture is possibly the most popular Daruma doll, and the city itself produces around 80% of Japan’s Daruma. Its name is derived from the Zen monk Bodhidharma, known in Japan as Daruma, and is traditionally painted red as a symbol of good luck. The doll’s limbless figure is said to resemble the legendary monk, as he supposedly lost his limbs from nine years of meditation.

The doll's eyebrows symbolise a crane, while the beard represents a turtle’s tail. This symbolism is derived from a Japanese proverb that suggests these animals have long lifespans, with cranes living up to 1,000 years and turtles up to 10,000 years. Conversely, Kanji characters for concepts such as “luck” and “happiness” are painted in the middle of the Daruma.

Various Daruma Dolls

Daruma dolls come in various colours and sizes. (Photo from: Pixta)

Over time, these dolls have evolved into a cherished New Year's gift, believed to usher in luck into the household. They are now painted in diverse colours beyond the traditional red, reflecting specific aspirations. But apart from luck, the Daruma dolls also embody a symbol of perseverance for many individuals.

More than just a lucky charm

A symbol of luck and perseverance

These dolls are symbols of perseverance and luck. (Photo from: Pexels)

Aside from being a lucky charm, the Daruma doll serves as a motivational tool for many Japanese. Its round shape and unique design, which allows it to return to an upright position even when tilted, symbolise the Buddhist principle of “Nanakorobi Yaoki” or “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” 

In addition, when you buy a Daruma doll, it would come without pupils painted on its eyes — it is tradition to fill in the pupils yourself: one as you make a wish or set a goal (usually at the beginning of the year), and the other once your wish has come true or your goal has been achieved.

Painting the pupils of the Daruma

The Daruma doll's pupils are painted on by the owner. (Photo from: Pixta)

People would often display their Daruma dolls on a shelf or a location that’s easily seen to be reminded of their aspirations and the effort they have to put in for them to come to fruition. Placing the doll in prominent locations serves as a visual reminder, motivating individuals to persevere throughout the year to fill in Daruma’s pupils by the year's end.

Individuals, businesses, politicians and many more are still using the Daruma doll for luck and inspiration in their daily lives. Some even carry their dolls with them, especially during crucial moments in their lives.

After a year of having your Daruma, it is customary to return to a Buddhist temple, shrine or participate in the Hatsuichi Festival, held annually in Maebashi City, Gunma on the 9th of January. During this ritual, the Daruma is burned to release the deity, regardless of whether your initial wish has been fulfilled or not. If your goal is still in progress or unmet, you can buy a new Daruma and make the same wish or establish new ones.

What are you wishing for this year?

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