Daruma dolls have a round shape and powerful facial expressions, with a piercing look in their eyes. They are a very popular item in Japan, and are very often sold around the end of year period. These dolls are regarded as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. Japanese people rely on Daruma power when they want to pass an exam, win games, make new resolution, start a new project, or simply wish for good health and a successful business life. A good example of this is that many candidates in political elections keep Daruma in their offices while they wait for a report of election results.
Daruma dolls are made with weighted bottoms so that they always come back to an upright position. Because they never let themselves down, they are considered a symbol of good fortune.
To make Daruma dolls, one uses a method called “Hariko”, where several pieces of Japanese paper are attached to a wooden mold and dried. Once they get dry, they are cut from behind the mold and taken out. It is believed that the Daruma figurine originated in Takasaki when Togaku, the ninth generation priest of Shorinzan Darumaji, thought up a solution to handle the constant requests of the parishioners for new charms. The temple made wooden molds for the people to use. Peasants then used these molds to make three-dimensional Daruma and started selling them for some extra money in addition to their farming businesses.
Daruma were originally painted in red, which comes from the color of priests’ (Daruma) robes and the symbolic significance the color has as potent against evil. When making Daruma dolls, we usually depict a beard and daring eyebrows that represent the turtle and the crane (The eyebrows are in the shape of a crane while the cheek hair resembles the shell of the tortoise) but we do not draw the eye balls. As we make a wish, we draw one eyeball and spend days looking at our Daruma doll, which reminds us of our goals. When the wish is fulfilled or the project is achieved, we can go ahead with drawing the other eyeball. It is not uncommon in Japan to small religious services organized for this kind of wish making with Daruma dolls.
The origin of this practice lies in the silkworm breeding industry, which has flourished in Gunma prefecture for a long time. Since the shape of Daruma dolls resembles the cocoon of a silkworm, Daruma dolls have been branded as the guardian gods of silkworm farming. Moreover, molts shed their skin four times before turning into cocoon silkworms and when they crack the old skin to “get up”, the Japanese like to recall the proverb “Nanakorobi Yaoki”, which means “seven times down, eight times up.” Daruma dolls are often illustrated alongside these words. The farmers would ask the Daruma to grant them lot of successful cocoons while drawing only one eye, and draw the second when this actually took place.
900,000 Daruma dolls a year are made in Gunma’s Takasaki, about 80% of the national production rate. Daruma from this city are then shipped to all over Japan. Even in modern society, this traditional way of making wishes with Daruma dolls is something the Japanese people don’t seem to want to give up on just yet.
Gunma-ken Takasaka-shi Fujitsukacho 124-2
E‘Site Takasaki Gunma Iroha
Gunma-ken Takasaki-shi Yashimacho