Daruma (Daruma Doll) (だるま)

A daruma is a doll or toy representing the sitting figure of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen, a sect of Buddhism, who is practicing Zen meditation; at the present time, it is widely popular as a lucky charm not only in the Zen sect, but also in different religious sects, across religions.

Daruma dolls are usually made of papier-mâché and the eyes are left blank on purpose when sold. Traditionally, the purchaser paints in one eye, making some special wish, and when the wish is fulfilled, paints in the other eye.

Origin and history

A prototype to a daruma doll is a tumble doll (okiagari-koboshi), which is weighted at the round bottom in a way that it returns to an upright position when tipped over. This roly-poly doll which always stands up was compared to the anecdote of Bodhidharma's persistence during his nine-year Zen meditation of wall-gazing, after which the face of Bodhidharma was painted on the doll. These characteristics of a daruma doll, such as 'standing up again' (okiagari) and 'stumbling seven imes but recovering eight' (nanakorobi-yaoki), gradually made it a lucky charm.


In Japan, the origin of daruma dolls is said to be during the Edo period when they were introduced from China to the temples of the Obaku sect in Nagasaki. After that, they were worshiped by merchants, and spread to various places in Japan.

Incidentally, the color of daruma dolls introduced to Nagasaki is believed to have been yellow.

Why Daruma dolls are red.

Basically, daruma dolls have been painted red from ancient times. This red coloring is derived from an old saying that Bodhidharma wore a red robe, but there are other sayings that the red color could dispel evil spirits, or that the god of smallpox who causes smallpox would hate the color of red.

For these reasons, daruma dolls were given to children as a toy which had magical powers in order to protect them against smallpox and evil spirits.

In recent years, these dolls have been produced in yellow, white, green, and gold besides red.

Filling in eyes of a daruma doll and discrimination against the disabled

As mentioned above, a purchaser paints in an eye of a daruma doll after the fulfillment of some special wish; however, daruma dolls are charms and objects of worship that require 'eyes-opening' (spiritual awakening) in the same manner as Buddhist images. For this ceremony, making a wish, a prayer paints in one eye on the right (half-awakening), and when the wish is granted, color in the other eye. If the eyes of daruma dolls have been already painted in, the purchasers can not perform this ceremony, so that daruma dolls are sold with their eyes left blank.

On the other hand, however, there is a claim that the practice of making daruma without eyes is discriminatory against the blind, which could be said to be a misconception resulting from a lack of accurate knowledge about daruma dolls. At the present time, nonetheless, there are fewer chances to see people draw an eye into a daruma doll out in public due to this claim, and many daruma dolls are now sold with their eyes painted in beforehand.

Types of Daruma dolls

Daruma dolls are different in size, shape, color, and material, depending on areas where they are produced, and are often known by the name of where they are produced. The followings are types of famous Daruma dolls.

Takasaki Daruma doll

Takasaki Daruma dolls are produced in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. Takasaki Daruma dolls are also referred to as 'Joshu Daruma,' which is not an official name (Takasaki Daruma is a registered regional organization trademark). For one year 1.3 million Takasaki Daruma dolls, which is 80% of all daruma dolls produced in Japan, are produced here.

This often makes them a standard used to compare with other daruma dolls produced in other areas.

Takasaki Daruma dolls have a red body in the shape close to a globe with a white sunken face, on which broad beards and eyebrows are painted. Gold vertical stripes are drawn on the part of the robe, and some letters are written on the front center part of the doll and on either side of the face. As custom-ordering enables some letters adjust to the taste of the customer to be written on these part of a daruma doll, such as an wish, Takasaki Daruma dolls are used as symbols or gifts of good luck.

For example, Takasaki City produces almost all of 'Election Daruma' dolls, in whose left eye a politician paints in black ink when running for an election, and at the victory in the right eye in black ink.

Goshiki Gankake Daruma (votive daruma doll in five colors)

The Goshiki Gankake Daruma doll is a doll of Doi Daruma-dera Temple in Izu city, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The 'Goshiki Gankake Daruma' is a Kyoto-type daruma doll painted in five color variations, 'blue, yellow, red, white, black,' representing five basic elements, 'sky, wind, fire, water, earth' respectively, which are five elements of the universe in Buddhism.

It features a good-luck tally with a written wish of the owner pasted on a daruma doll.

In praying, 'namu-damo-sowaka' is recited three times.

Namu means 'I have a faith in you.'

Damo means 'the venerable Bodhidharma.'

Sowaka means 'good luck' or 'best wishes.'

Shirakawa Daruma doll

The Shirakawa Daruma doll is the one produced in Shirakawa city, Fukushima Prefecture. It features a long beard. White Daruma dolls which are supposed to bring good luck are manufactured there, as well as red Daruma dolls to keep one's family safe and sound and to ward off evil. Fifteen hundred thousand Shirakawa Daruma dolls are produced every year.

Tokyo Daruma doll

The Tokyo Daruma doll is known in 'Jindai-ji Temple Daruma Market.'
It is said to be the origin of modernized daruma dolls such as daruma dolls for wish for the success in entrance examination or colorful daruma dolls; they influence on other areas' daruma dolls.

Suzukawa Daruma doll

The Suzukawa Daruma doll is the one produced in Gakunan area, Fuji city, Shizuoka Prefecture. It features benevolent, quiet countenance.

Koshigaya Daruma doll

The Koshigaya Daruma doll is made in Koshigaya City, Saitama Prefecture. Also called 'Bushu Daruma', the Koshigaya Daruma doll is said to have originated from a toy, previously known as okiagari koboshi, on which a doll maker in Makuri, named 'Darukichi,' painted the face of Bodhidharma in meditation during the Kyoho era in the Edo period (1716~1736).

Compared with other daruma dolls, they have facial features, 'fair complexion,' 'high nasal height,' and 'auspicious expression,' and are shipped all around the nation, especially throughout the Kanto region including Kawasaki-daishi Temple, and Taishakuten Temple, known by the name of 'Koshigaya Daruma.'
Four hundred thousand Koshigaya Daruma dolls are produced every year by seven Daruma doll makers of Koshigaya City which belong to Daruma associations in Koshigaya City, one in Saitama City (Iwatsuki Ward), and one in Kasukabe City; almost all of these dolls are produced by hand.

Hime (Princess) Daruma doll

Hime Daruma is a doll shaped like a daruma doll, derived from the Empress Jingu. Ehime Prefecture is the birthplace of these dolls. They are also produced in Takeda City, Oita Prefecture.

Daruma-ichi (Daruma fair)

Daruma fairs, where Daruma dolls are sold, are held in various places every year.

Bishamonten Festival

Bishamonten Festival is held from 7th to 9th of the lunar New Year at Myoho-ji Temple in Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture. A crowd of 500,000 people, the largest in Japan, show up there each year.

Apotropaic Genzan-taishi Festival.

Apotropaic Genzan-taishi Festival is held on March 3, and 4 every year at Jindai-ji Temple in Chofu City, Tokyo Ward.
It is known as 'Jindai-ji Daruma Market.'

Shorin-zan Nanakusa Festival

The Shorin-zan Nanakusa Festival is held every year on January 6 and 7 at Daruma-ji Temple in Takasaki City.
It is referred to as 'Takasaki Daruma Market.'
A crowd of about 240,000 people show up at the fair every year.

Above-listed daruma fairs are known as three of Japan's biggest daruma fairs.

Shirakawa Daruma Market.

Shirakawa Daruma Market is held along the central street in front of JR Shirakawa Station as the main venue. It is held each February 11 (National Foundation Day).

Kawasaki-daishi Daruma Market

Kawasaki-daishi Daruma Market is annually held on January 3.

Ome Daruma Market

Ome Daruma Market is held along the old Ome Street in front of JR Ome Station. It is held on January 12 every year.

Haijima-daishi Daruma Market

Haijima-daishi Daruma Market is held on January 2 and 3 each year.

Kita-in Daruma Market

Kita-in Daruma Market is held every January 3 at Kawasaki-daishi Temple (Kita-in).

Daruma Otoshi

Daruma otoshi is a toy consisting several thin circular pieces stacked up with a daruma doll similar to a tip of a bullet on top, where players knock disks one by one from the flank with an wooden mallet without toppling the disk tower, and the winner of the game is the person who can remove all disks only remaining a daruma doll on the floor. Hitting out disks in the flank quickly is a knack of it.

Daruma-san ga koronda (The Bodhidharm fell down)

Daruma-san ga koronda is a kind of children culture. It is thought to be a variation of the game of tag. The details of this game is that while the tagger calls out 'daruma-san ga koronda' (Bodhidharm fell down) with his or her back to the rest of the players, the others touch the tagger and then run away as far as they can from the tagger. At any time when the tagger is calling out the spell, 'Daruma-san ga koronda,' the players must freeze in place.

Niramekko (outstaring game)

Two children look at each other and try to keep from laughing.
In starting the game, they call out, 'Daruma-san, Daruma-san, niramekko shimasho.'

Daruma Bento (Lunch Box)

There is a famous ekiben (box lunch sold at railway stations) in Takasaki Station, called Takasaki Bento Daruma Bento (Lunch Box). Because Takasaki City is famous for producing Daruma dolls, Daruma-shaped containers are used for a Daruma bento consisting of several small portions of food on cooked rice. There are two totally different types of containers of Daruma Bento; the plastic containers, regular version, similar to a 'Takasaki Daruma doll' in shape and the containers made of china on which Daruma face with sharp eyes are depicted, called 'revived Daruma bento,' reproducing old Daruma bento.

Daruma (Daruma finance minister/Daruma prime minister)

It was a nickname for Korekiyo TAKAHASHI, a politician during the Taisho and Showa era. It was because his physique was similar to that of a daruma doll.

Daruma stove (pot-bellied wood stove)

The Daruma stove is a type of wood stove. With a bulge in the middle for the loading door, a daruma stove is named for its daruma-like shape.


Daruma is a nickname for Suntory Old Whiskey, one kind of whiskey the Suntory company has produced. It is named for its Daruma-llike shaped bottle. The nickname is used in bars. It is sometimes called 'tanuki' (raccoon dog).

Daruma woman (a woman without arms and legs) or those who live in the inland of China and do everything well even with no arms and legs.

The Daruma woman is an urban legend.

Darumouse (a compound word of Daruma and mouse)

The Darumouse is named for the use of a real Takasaki Daruma doll with a built-in mouse.

[Original Japanese]