Japanese Daruma Doll (だるま)

Japanese Daruma Doll (だるま)

Have you ever seen this guy before? Having been to my fair share of temples and shrines, I’ve seen this figurine quite a bit. They come in all different sizes. I’ve seen tiny ones and humongous ones. I’ve seen one in my karate dojo. I have one, too!

If you’ve never seen this before, this is Daruma (だるま) in Japanese. In English we might say dharma, but that wouldn’t be right, would it? Isn’t dharma like the principles of Buddhism, like a person’s duty? Well I won’t get into a long, drawn out religious lecture. But I do know the name from these dolls stems from Bodidharma (I think my brain is sweating…whew!).

The hollow, Daruma tumbler dolls are actually a representation of Bodidharma, the monk responsible for the founding of a sect of Buddhism! The dolls are usually colored red (not mine, though, as you can see) kind of like a monks robe. The Daruma doll symbolizes good luck and longevity in Japan.

When you get the original figurine, the eyes are usually white, with no pupils drawn/painted in. I have to say, it looked a bit creepy when I first saw it, but now I know that Daruma is a symbol of good fortune, a symbol of having hopes, wishes and dreams. It’s a symbol of achieving your goals here in Japan.

How Do Daruma Dolls Work?

The way it works is that you’re supposed to really wish for something as hard as you can and color/paint in the figurine’s right eye. You leave the left eye empty until your wish/dream comes true. Pretty neat, eh? Please be careful when coloring the eyes though. If you happen to get a powerful Daruma doll and color in the wrong eye, it’s like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters, or causing a tear in the space/time continuum…it’s catastrophically bad. Okay, maybe I made that up, but it’s fun to use my imagination every now and again.

For some reason I can imagine there being a movie called “Daruma”:

Two friends are sightseeing in Japan, and they find some elderly, Asian gentleman selling daruma dolls at a shrine (cue the mysterious music). They buy two dolls and the old man tells them to be careful of what they wish for. Of course they laugh it off, and later in the movie, one of the guys (or girls) makes a wish and colors in one of the doll’s eyes. While he (or she) is sleeping, the other eye shades in…all by itself! Cue the mysterious, yet slightly eerie Twilight Zone music. It sounds like it’d be an interesting movie, right? Well…maybe back in the 80s.

If you had a Daruma Doll that could only grant you one wish, what would you wish for?

Donald Ash

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  • Donald Ash

    I would wish for the ability to go back in time as often as I’d like. With that, you can pretty much do whatever you like. Even get more Daruma to make wishes :)

  • Jeremy

    Great article! Can’t wait to ge my own daruma!

  • really simple food

    Hi – i have some question about daruma dol maybe someone can answer some of them (no need to andwer all) :

    1 . THE most important question : where the hell are there turtle on the daruma doll face ??? i can see the cranes in the eyebrows – people say the mustache is turtles – but i cant see it !! where is the head ? where are the legs ? is it 1 turtle or 2 turtles ?

    2 . some daruma dolls have writings on the sides of the face – what do they say ?


    3 . Also i plan to make and sell daruma dolls – does anyone know if they are a trademark or can i make and sell them freely ?

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