Japanese Daruma

The Japanese Daruma is a doll with a wide symbolism and historical background in the country. Daruma is the name by which Bodhidharma is known in Japan. He was an Indian or Persian monk, famous for being the first to introduce Buddhism to China.

It is believed that he arrived in southern China by boat around 520. After an unsuccessful attempt to spread his teaching in this region, he went further into the country until he reached Lo-yang, in northern China. There he settled in the Shao-lin monastery on Mount Sung, where he practiced and taught. He is considered the inventor of Shaolin Kung Fu. It is not known with certainty if he died in the same temple or if he returned to India. His disciple Hui-k'o would be his successor in the lineage.

Hakuin Ekako calligraphy of the monk Bodhidharma

The legend of the Daruma

It is said that Bodhidharma attained enlightenment after meditating uninterruptedly for nine years, a period known as "nine years staring at the wall". He had to face fatigue and sleep and it is said that, in a moment of great frustration, he cut off his eyelids to stay awake. It is also said that, due to atrophy, his arms and legs fell off, yet he was able to remain upright at all times, anchored firmly on his axis.

The representations of Daruma

Being the founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, or Daruma, is a very popular figure in Japan and a recurring theme in art. His physical features, so exotic for an Oriental, and the anecdotes of his legend make his representations easily recognizable.

He is found in numerous paintings and sculptures not only in temples, but also in the homes of the Japanese. It appears printed on fabrics, papers, in calligraphy, engravings, toys, jewelry or even key chains.

However, the best known representation is the Daruma doll made of papier-mâché, also called the doll of resolutions. It is a good luck charm and we now detail its characteristics.

The rich symbolism of the Daruma doll

The Japanese Daruma has its origins in talismans that were prepared for parishioners at the Daruma-dera, the Daruma temple located in the city of Takasaki north of Tokyo. Around 1770, the first molds of Daruma dolls were probably made so that people could make their own amulets. It was not until the 19th century that its popularity grew and it gradually spread throughout Japan.

Its shape

Knowing the history of Bodhidharma, it is perfectly understandable its peculiar round shape and the importance of its eyes.

The eyes

White when buying a doll, they are large and symmetrical. They serve as a reminder to strive to achieve what we have set out to do.

Facial hair

The eyebrows of the Japanese Daruma are usually crane-shaped and the hair on the cheeks is reminiscent of a turtle's shell, these two animals being symbols of longevity for the Japanese. These shapes are usually best seen on larger figures such as our special Daruma.

Like a teeter-totter

The Daruma doll is conflated with the tradition of Okiagari-Koboshi, traditional Japanese teething toys. Its shape lends itself to the fact that when it falls down, it can be picked up again, a symbol of perseverance.

The meaning of colors

The most prominent are the following:

  • Red Daruma: this is the best known and most traditional of the Darumas. It is used for all kinds of purposes.
  • White Daruma: associated with purity, it is used for love affairs.
  • Golden Daruma: the color of abundance, it is used for purposes related to money, good fortune and prosperity.
  • Purple Daruma: used for matters related to harmony and personal growth.
  • Daruma green: serves purposes related to health and fitness.
  • Black Daruma: is the most special of all in terms of its use. It is used as a protector and to prevent something bad from happening.

Darumas are made in all sizes, from the size of an egg to the size of a person. You can check on our website all the available models.

How to proceed with the Japanese Daruma?

"Daruma, Daruma: I make a purpose and paint you an eye. When I have fulfilled it, I will paint the other one".

It is a small ritual that invites us to realize what we long for and that requires our effort to make it come true. We choose a purpose and we paint an eye to our Daruma. When we have achieved it, we can paint the other eye as a sign of gratitude. As a way of learning, we can also write down how we have achieved our goal, feeling at that moment a great personal satisfaction.

In Japan, each painted Daruma is valid for one year. Therefore, around January 18, the annual burning of Darumas is organized in many temples. People bring to the bonfires the figures they have used during the year, expressing their gratitude.

The spirit of the Daruma

Its figure serves as a reminder that, with determination and perseverance, we will achieve the purpose we have set for ourselves. In this sense, it is very important that we choose a specific and attainable goal. It is not about buying a Daruma and then waiting for our wish to magically come true: Daruma motivates us to work hard and apply ourselves.

What to do if we don't achieve our resolution for the year? That's okay. Let us remember that Bodhidharma took nine years to attain enlightenment and did not give up in the first year, nor in the eighth year. Therefore, we will burn our Daruma with gratitude for the journey we have made and find new means to reach our goal.

Peculiarities of the Japanese Daruma

The Daruma doll has its annual festival in the city of Takasaki. It is held every year on January 6 and 7. Tens of thousands of Japanese people come to buy new lucky dolls for the coming year.

Japanese politicians also resort to these figures in order to win elections - even the Prime Minister paints an eye on a giant Daruma to succeed!

A meaningful gift

The Daruma doll is always a symbol of optimism. For the Japanese, any occasion is a good time to give one, especially on birthdays and New Year's Day. In Tierra Zen we have made a nice little box so you can bring the optimism of the Japanese Daruma to the people you love.

We hope you found this post interesting. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or want to make contributions. We will be happy to hear from you.


Buddhist dictionary / Héctor V. Morel and José Dali Moral / Ed. Kier, Buenos Aires, 1989.
Dictionary of Oriental Wisdom / AAVV / Ed. Paidós, Barcelona, 1993.

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