What is a Daruma?

About Darumas and the Symbolism Behind Them

A Daruma is a hollow, round doll or figurine traditionally made from papier-mache, sometimes referred to as a Dharma doll or Japanese wishing doll. A symbol of good luck and persistence, they are usually red, but can vary in colour depending on the artist, region of Japan and attributed meaning.


The Meaning of Daruma Dolls

Daruma dolls are said to be modelled on Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk typically associated with the transmission of Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China. A legendary figure shrouded in mystery, what little information can be gleaned about Bodhidharma comes from a handful of ancient and somewhat unreliable sources, although they certainly make for some interesting reading.

One story goes that he spent so long meditating (nine years!) that eventually his limbs atrophied. Another is that after seven of the nine years, he fell asleep and became so enraged with himself that he cut off his own eyelids. As he did so the shoots of the first tea plants sprung up, providing a source of stimulation thereafter for students of Chan practicing meditation.

While these stories may seem farfetched, one thing of which we can be almost certain is Bodhidharma's fierce commitment to meditation, and his strong resolve to introduce the practice to the monasteries of China. To this day, followers of Zen Buddhism remember him as a symbol of spirited determination in the face of adversity.

And it is exactly this kind of determination that Daruma dolls represent. They remind us that good fortune requires persistence, not just luck or coincidence. The weighted bottom of the doll echoes a well-known Japanese proverb: nana korobi yaoki ('fall down seven times, get up eight'), lending further significance to this interpretation.


The Odd Appearance of Darumas

The appearance of Darumas is somewhat surprising, shocking even, for those of us who are used to seeing typically handsome dolls with smiling, friendly faces. They often have a look of anger about them, which may be attributed to Bodhidharma's intense drive and determination.

Their eye sockets are typically left blank to be filled in by the owner, the first when a goal is set, and the second once that goal has been achieved. This, and their lack of limbs, may also be linked to the legendary tales about Bodhidharma's nine-year meditation.

The fascinating albeit sketchy accounts behind the legend of Bodhidharma alone make Darumas an unusual and inspired gift foranyone with an interest in Japanese culture – not just Buddhists – and especially those who are facing tough challenges in the pursuit of their dreams.


The Japanese Shop has a great range of Daruma dolls for sale, all available to order online for delivery. Browse the range here or visit our showroom in Harrogate, North Yorkshire to see our full collection of authentic Japanese gifts.

What is a Daruma doll?