daruma-history

A Comprehensive Guide to the History of Daruma Dolls

The fascinating history behind Daruma dolls remains a prominent part of Japanese history with Daruma dolls still being displayed in businesses and homes throughout Japan. We have created a comprehensive guide featuring all you need to know about Daruma dolls, including information on Daruma history, the meaning behind the Daruma doll and the unique characteristics of their design.

What are Daruma Dolls?

Daruma dolls are round dolls with large blank white eyes and their purpose is to serve as constant reminders of what the Japanese call the ganbaru spirit. The message behind the dolls is that life is full of ups and downs but its within your own power to recover from the lows and to keep moving, which is why they are designed to automatically bounce back when knocked over.

The process of using a Daruma doll is made up of three factors; your goal, your action, and the outcome. In order to get good luck from a daruma doll you need to visualise your goal, paint one eye on to the doll and then once the goal has been reached you paint the other eye on. It was originally believed that the beneficial effect of the doll would expire after one year, after this time the doll was supposed to be burned in order to free the god inside. Although it may seem unproductive to give up on a goal that hasn’t been achieved after just one year, in Japan it is seen as a way of renewing the vow or goal, through the burning and then the re-buying of another Daruma doll.

 

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What do Daruma Dolls Represent?

The history behind these dolls is based on a sage monk named Bodhidharma, known as Daruma-Daishi in Japan. He is widely recognised for introducing Zen Buddhism to China (a form of Mahayana Buddhism), a type of meditation known as Zazen and also Shaolin Kungfu, discovering this whilst stopping at a Shaolin monastery along his many travels.

Whilst undertaking his journey, he decided to meditate whilst resting in a cave, which is where the story behind the history of Daruma, named after Bodhidharma’s Japanese name, starts. Bodhidharma spent 9 years meditating in in the cave with his eyes open, staring at the cave wall for the entire time.

His quest for enlightenment through meditation was so strongly devoted that his body gradually unattached and then simply dissolved, which is why Daruma dolls have such intense expressions, embodying the struggle Bodhidharma experienced and his determination to get through.

The 17th Century marked the start of the production of Daruma dolls, created by local farmers in the city of Takasaki. They were originally produced as charms to be blessed by monks, as the farmer’s income depended mainly on luck during harvest seasons. In only a few decades the use of the Daruma dolls spread throughout Japan. To this day, the town still produces over 80% of all the dolls distributed in Japan, with many businesses in particular still displaying a Daruma in some form.

Daruma Doll Design

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Traditionally, Daruma dolls are made from papier mâché painted red with large moustaches and empty white eyes, as shown in the image above of one of our very own Japanese Shop Daruma dolls. Scholars have tried over centuries to grasp the concept behind the colour choice but the specific motivation behind it remains unknown.

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One theory depicts that the colour is in connection with a period of devastating smallpox outbreaks across Asia. People began wearing red garments and decorating front doors with red ropes, in order to please the god of smallpox and discontinue the illness.

As an extension of this, Daruma dolls were believed to have the power to ward off illness and help with recovering due to this preconception around the colour red.

Daruma dolls are available in a range of colours and designs and our own collection of Daruma dolls, features other popular colours such as gold symbolising wealth and prosperity. Take a look at our range and find your favourite as a gift for yourself or a loved one.

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