Why is "Daruma" auspicious?

Why is "Daruma" auspicious? 

By the word auspicious, which means giving or being a sign of future success, "Daruma" is well-known for giving people a positive and successful future by helping them to make their dreams and wishes come true.

 The modern version of the doll comes in many shapes and colors, so it is normal not to know which one to get. Each color has a different meaning and is used in different situations or goals that you wish to achieve.

Upon the purchase of “Daruma”, the doll will be missing its eyes. What you do is paint one eye in one of the blank white circles while committing to your goal and asking for help from God. You would then paint the second eye, giving the god its eyesight back as a thank you for helping you, once you achieve your goal.

 What exactly is "Daruma" in the first place?

 "Daruma" is a doll made by hand and usually of red color. The wooden doll is represented as a frightening and horrendous figure, but it is not evil. It is done without arms and legs and its eyes have no pupils. It is a cute and round piece of interior decor that is very popular in Japan and Japanese people have been placing it in their homes for centuries. "Daruma" is a traditional Japanese doll that has been used by many people for a long time as an auspicious figurine. "Daruma" has different colors and each color has a different meaning.

 Though considered a toy by some, Daruma has a rich symbolism design and is regarded more as a "talisman of good luck" to the Japanese. Daruma dolls are known as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement.

 However, "Daruma" is not just a decoration, but in fact, it has a deep meaning and origin hidden in it. That’s why in this article, we will explain in detail the origin of "Daruma", the person who became the model, and the meaning. Knowing more about "Daruma" may deepen your love for "Daruma".

What is the origin of "Daruma"?

 “Daruma” is modeled after Bodhidharma Daishi, a monk accredited with the founding of Zen Buddhism, who seems to have lived between the 5th and 6th centuries CE. Bodhidharma began his life as a royal prince in Southern India in the Sardilli family in 482 A.D. During his education and training to continue in his father's footsteps as king, Bodhidharma encountered the Buddha's teachings. He immediately saw the truth in Lord Buddha's words and decided to give up his esteemed position and inheritance to study with the famous Buddhist teacher Prajnatara. Bodhidharma rapidly progressed in his Buddhist studies, and in time, Prajnatara sent Bodhidharma to China, where Buddhism had begun to die out, to introduce the Sarvastivada sect Buddhist teachings to the Chinese. Bodhidharma arrived in China after a brutal trek over Tibet's Himalayan Mountains surviving both the extreme elements and treacherous bandits.

 His origins are shrouded in mystery, and most of the accounts documenting his life are mixed with legends. One of the legends goes that he spent nine years facing a wall while practicing zazen (seated meditation done in a cross-legged position) until his limbs were atrophied. He was born in India and introduced Zen Buddhism to China. In Japan, his teachings were primarily taken up by the samurai who popularized them all over the country.

 During his travels, he stopped in a Shaolin monastery in China, founding the famous homonymous martial art. He then continued his journey until he decided to settle in a cave and meditate. This is where the history of the Daruma (after Bodhidharma’s Japanese name) begins.

 The monk, Bodhidharma Daishi, became a wall-gazer. He meditated, eyes to a wall, in a seated position for nine years, without breaks, and without closing his eyes, except once, after seven years. He was so furious at himself for what he perceived as a lack of discipline, that he sliced his eyelids off to prevent himself from ever sleeping again. As the eyelids touched the ground, they sprouted green tea plants. This legend is one of the reasons behind Buddhist monks often drinking green tea to stay awake.

 On top of self-mutilation, Bodhidharma also suffered the loss of his arms and legs (according to some legends they fell off his body) as a consequence of his immobility for nine years. Art and folklore depicting Bodhidharma show him almost exclusively displaying these characteristics, which is why the Daruma dolls, in all its aspects, symbolize Bodhidharma’s position and features (“Daruma” is made without arms or legs).

To honor Bodhidharma, a limbless round doll was constructed in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). Then, during the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573), Japan was introduced to the “okiagari-koboshi”: the self-righting acolyte doll, a type of toy with a rounded bottom that made it impossible to topple.

 The daruma doll as we know it today was first manufactured during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) when the limbless round doll and okiagari-koboshi were merged into one. The idea was that the new doll would symbolize not to give up, no matter what hardships befell you.

 Daruma dolls are constant reminders of what the Japanese call" the ganbaru spirit". Life is full of problems and bumps on the road. You can't stop yourself from stumbling sometimes. You can't avoid these difficulties because it is where you will learn things and get stronger once you overcome these struggles. These pitfalls will make you a better person. You can fall but it’s up to you to get back up. It’s in your power and will to keep moving. That’s why Daruma dolls have such determined expressions. They never give up. They are built to automatically bounce back when knocked over.

 In addition, everything about Daruma’s design has deep roots and meaning, down to the most minute details, making this doll much more than a simple household item.

 The history of the Daruma dates back to the 17th Century. It was when the local farmers in the city of Takasaki, in the Gunma prefecture, crafted the first version of these dolls, as charms to be blessed by monks. Since the farmers’ livelihood depended heavily on luck, they devised this superstitious trick to help them in their harvest. In the span of a few decades, the practice of using the Daruma spread across professions and regions and became famous.

As often tradition goes, the history and origin of the Daruma don’t carry the same weight it used to. Its colors are not the only thing that has changed. One of the biggest changes that happened is that of its representation as female dolls, the so-called "Princess Daruma", and "Lady Daruma".

 While these interpretations gave life to images such as “Hello Kitty” and “Miffy” as a “Daruma”, assuming that these changes happened in modern times would be wrong. The first and most drastic spins on the image of the god happened during the Edo Period in Japan (1603-1868), shortly after the dolls were first introduced.

During that time, a very clear separation of social classes occurred. Merchants were often placed at the bottom of the ladder, which prompted them to create a sort of micro-society for themselves. Among many other things, they gave life to the female representations of the Daruma. This was probably intended to take jabs at the establishment, which always portrayed Bodhidharma as a masculine, strong figure. Paintings of Bodhidharma as a woman became more common, while more and more satirical associations to the god became everyday events.

 The Daruma's ability to stand up no matter how many times one would lay it down was associated with prostitutes and their tendency to do the same. Phallic depictions of Daruma also became more commonplace until, in time, the original image and the satirical ones were almost on par with each other in number and use.

 In modern and contemporary times the Daruma has become a souvenir, a display item, and a cute present. Yet it has not completely lost its original power in the collective imaginary. While it is not common to find people who know the full history behind this good-luck charm, the Daruma is often purchased to help achieve one’s goals and to help make one’s wishes come true.

 The current popular symbolism associated with Daruma as a good luck charm in part originated with the Daruma-dera (Temple of Daruma) in the city of Takasaki (Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo). Josef Kyburz, author of "Omocha": Things to Play (Or Not to Play) with, explained that the founder of Daruma-Dera would draw New Year’s charms depicting Bodhidharma. The parishioners would keep these charms to "bring happiness and prosperity and ward off accidents and misfortune".

 It is believed that the Daruma figurine then originated from this region when the ninth priest, Togaku, found a solution to handle the constant requests of the parishioners for new charms. The charms were always given with effectiveness of one year, so the people required new ones every year. He solved this by entrusting them with the making of their own Daruma charms near the beginning of the Meiwa period (1764–72). The temple made wooden block molds for the people to use. The peasants then used these molds to make three-dimensional papier-mâché charms.

 Kyburz notes that though it is unknown when the Daruma figurine combined with the tumbler doll; the two were well recognized as synonymous by the mid-19th century. The doll quickly grew in popularity, becoming a mascot of the region. This was due greatly in part to fact that the majority of the families were silk farmers, as it was mentioned above, a crop that requires a great deal of luck for success.

 There is an annual Daruma Doll Festival (達磨市, daruma-ichi) held by the city of Takasaki in celebration of being the proclaimed birthplace of the Daruma doll. The celebration is held at the Shorinzan, the name of Takasaki's "Daruma-Dera". According to the Takasaki city website, "Over 400,000 people from all over the Kanto Plain come to buy new good-luck dolls for the year. Takasaki produces 80% of Japan's Daruma dolls." The festival also features a 24-hour reading of sutras by the Shorinzan monks for world peace.

 Some people believed that a daruma doll is typically kept until an objective has been achieved. Many Japanese will consider a goal that is achievable within one year, for this reason, is very common. However, as painting the eye is representing your commitment to a goal, it's more about that achievement than anything else.

 Teachings of Bodhidharma Daishi, who became the model for "Daruma"

 Bodhidharma Daishi, who became the model for "Daruma", chanted "Ninyu Gyoron" ("Ninyu Shigyoron" is a Zen book that consists of the theory about how to enter and practice self-cultivation, which is said to have been taught to people by Bodhidharma. It is a Zen book included in a survey report by Sadataro Suzuki (Daisetsu) of the Dunhuang book discovered in the western part of China in 1900 at the National Library of China. This is the oldest manuscript, which he named "Niiri Shigyo Nagamaki" (-chokansu) because the title part was missing.

Before the above survey report, there is "Bodhidharma Shigyokan" in the book that has been used by Zen Buddhism, and this is known as "Niiri Shigyoron". It is also recorded in "Xu Gaoseng Zhuden" and "Transmission of the Lamp", and a part of the Tenjun book "Bodhidharma Shigyoron" (1464) remains in Korea.)

 Bodhidharma is said to have written the "two-entry four-element theory", the title of which means the two entrances to self-discipline and the four practices to help you achieve that. The ultimate goal of it is to help elevate people by sharpening their minds and emphasizing the importance of taking personal responsibility and patience. It is a teaching that was advocated to hone one's spirit and enhance one's personality.

 The theory also talks about the importance of finding your way of living a sincere and honest life, something that is impossible to fail at if you just try. It is advocated to take responsibility for one's actions and be patient.

 In addition, the importance of working from what you can do and doing your best in your daily life is being understood.

If you follow the teachings of the "two-in-four-line theory", there is nothing you can't achieve! The daruma doll embodies those teachings and helps you achieve your dreams and goals.

What is the meaning of decorating "Daruma"?

 In Japan, “Daruma” is very popular. The “daruma dolls” start off without any eyes drawn on. When you want one of them to help you achieve your dreams, you first draw its left eye and wait for your wish to come true. When your wish comes true, you can draw its right eye on it. However, from the beginning of decorating "Daruma", we did not look at "Daruma" in this way.

 There is a theory that the eye-catching custom of drawing eyes on the daruma doll supposedly started due to a smallpox epidemic during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Since smallpox can affect eyesight, people who have it had poor eyesight. So the “daruma doll” with its big, healthy eyes became very popular. Around this time, the eyeless "daruma" was created so that people could draw their own favorite eyes.

 It is believed that the red color of "Daruma" has an amulet effect, and it was also used for disease prevention. It changed gradually and is now displayed as a figurine that helps to make a wish come true.

 The production of Daruma dolls is an almost exclusive enterprise of the city of Takasaki, in Gunma Prefecture (north of Tokyo). The town produces over 80% of all the dolls distributed in Japan. From here, the dolls reach every corner of the country and can be purchased in every city (or online through this site "Waka" ).

 The Daruma is crafted with a special kind of hand-made papier-mâché called "washi".

 The making of washi is very labor-intensive and is considered, in Japan, an art of its own. The sheets are extremely resilient and are crafted from fiber, vats, and a limited amount of chemicals, through a process of beating (often by hand) and drying in the sun, or on heated plates.

 All Daruma are handmade and hand-painted, so no two dolls have the same design.

What is the meaning of "Daruma"?

 “Daruma” is the Japanese pronunciation of Dharma. It can also be written with the ideograms “達磨” where () means to reach and () means to grind, polish, cut and improve.

 The daruma doll became a symbol of good luck during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). The doll’s red color has long been believed to ward off evil and was even used to protect people from epidemics. This eventually evolved into the belief that the daruma doll can help make your dreams come true.

 “Daruma” represents three things: your goal, your action, and the outcome. While it heavily depends on luck and good spirits, the modern Daruma also asks that you take action and be proactive in working towards your dream and achievement. In short, each Daruma doll is a piece of you. And it’s up to you to be the one to opens both eyes. Be the person who goes from making wishes to achieving dreams. The Daruma doll is a mirror that shows what you've always been capable of.

 One of the most noticeable features of the Daruma is its blank glance. These dolls do not have pupils but they have large white circles where the eyes would be. One of the theories behind this choice in the design is linked to the legend of Bodhidharma removing his eyelids.

 A more prominent one suggests that it came from the fact that, in the past, those who wanted the god residing in the doll to help them achieve their goals would vow that they would give Daruma its eyesight if the god helped them succeed in their endeavors.

 The beard and eyebrows painted on the daruma doll are meant to reproduce Bodhidharma’s facial features, but they do not serve a merely aesthetic purpose.

 Based on this fact, the eyebrows are shaped to look like cranes and the beard like turtles. These two animals often represent longevity, in Japanese culture (as well as in the rest of East Asia). Crafters started applying these shapes on the Daruma to match the Japanese proverb “The crane lives 1000 years, whereas the turtle lives 10,000 years”.

 the Daruma presents no legs or arms, as a reminder of Bodhidharma losing his limbs in his quest to reach enlightenment through self-sacrifice and meditation, but there is more.

The original dolls were created and designed to be impossible to tip over. Tilting them would always result in the Daruma swinging back into its upright position. The Daruma is a talisman of luck, but more importantly perseverance. One asking for the help of this god acknowledges the importance of sacrifice in the face of adversity.

For this reason, the doll serves as a reminder that no matter how many times one could get knocked down, one must always endure and stand back up, in order to achieve a goal. Strongly connected to this ideology and to the Daruma itself is the Japanese expression nanakorobi yaoki, which loosely translates into “fall down seven times, stand up eight”.

 Kanji, meaning “luck”, “fortune”, “perseverance”, or similar others are sometimes written on the Daruma’s midsection, probably as a reflection of the reason for which the doll was acquired. Additionally, sometimes, people write their wish, or goal, on the doll itself, maybe to remind themselves, or to inform the god in a more “official” manner.

What is the meaning of the color of "Daruma"?

 When people hear the word “daruma doll,” they usually think about a red doll with a harsh face. In the Edo period (1603 – 1868), most "daruma dolls" were indeed red and many were also white but we did not see any other color of "daruma".

 However, after the Showa era, many colors other than red and white "daruma" came to be made with various meanings.

 The reasons behind the choice of the color of the Daruma are interesting, but convoluted, and hard to find consensus on. Nowadays we can find these dolls decorated in all sorts of colors, each one of them signifying a different auspice.

 For example, in Japan, the color gold is linked to money and fame; black is meant to ward off bad luck; green symbolizes heath and fitness. Yet these color-theme associations are drawn from a myriad of different beliefs, superstitions, and legends, all of which come together to form a collective image.

 One certain thing, though, is that to this day the most common color used for the Daruma is red, and originally it was the only color. For centuries scholars tried to grasp the motivation behind this color choice, but even today it proves to be hard.

 One of the reasons might connect to Bodhidharma, who, given his Buddhist background may have worn red robes. Similarly, monks, today use robes of the same color.

 Other theories refer to the supernatural powers of the color red and its connection to the gods. Adding to the already very grim legends surrounding the Daruma, its staple color may have originated from a period of devastating smallpox outbreaks across Asia.

 In Japan, and elsewhere, not knowing how to fend off such a “curse” sent by a vengeful god, people started wearing red garments, thinking that this color pleased the god of smallpox and would have helped in repealing the illness. By the same token, people would decorate their doors and houses with red ropes, in an attempt to block the illness from accessing their homes.

 Yet this theory would not explain why, very often, victims of smallpox would be wrapped while ill, and in death, with red drapes, as portrayed in the book Shipwreck by Akira Yoshimura. According to some research, some people believed that the god of smallpox didn’t like the color red. He hated it so much that people believed that he might transfer the curse with which he afflicted people, from the victim to the drape tinted in what for him was such an infuriating hue.

 Throughout history, Daruma dolls were believed to be able to ward off illness, and help with recovery (literally bouncing back to health), and a great part of this ability was associated to the color red, but no one was ever able to give a universally accepted reason as to why.

 In this section, we will discuss the exact meaning of the most popular daruma doll colors and explain them in detail so that you can choose one that’s best suited to helping you achieve your dreams.

Meaning of black "Daruma"

 The black daruma doll has the meaning of prosperous business and symbolizes success in one’s business since black is a strong and powerful color that makes people feel motivated. The color is also connected to the business term “in the black,” meaning “to be profitable,” which is why the black daruma doll came to be known as a talisman that attracts stable income and success in business. There is no doubt that the black color will make you feel powerful because it is believed to have the power to bring profits and stable fortune, and is recommended for those who want to make a wish regarding business.

Meaning of yellow "Daruma"

 The yellow daruma doll is believed to mean "fertility" because yellow is the color of the grain. And since yellow is the color of the grain, the yellow daruma doll came to symbolize bountiful harvests and, with it, economic prosperity. Yellow is a very cheerful color and it is a color that energizes the viewer. It also has the meaning of increasing fortune so it often appears in gifts celebrating the opening of a store or getting a new job.

Meaning of golden "Daruma"

The golden daruma doll has the meaning of improving fortune and symbolizes monetary gains. Because of its distinctive and flashy color, it will brighten the atmosphere not only in homes but also in offices and in other places that could use a little light and color. If you’re praying for more money, this is the daruma doll to help you out with it. This color is recommended for people who want to fulfill their financial wishes.

Meaning of red "Daruma"

 The red daruma doll is a color that has been used for a long time and was believed to have an amulet effect. The Red color of daruma is said to ward off evil. Red daruma dolls were primarily talismans used to prevent illnesses and disasters. It is also known as a lucky charm and has the longest history in Japan. It also used to pray for family safety, prosperity, and good luck, so this color remained popular to this day.

Meaning of white "Daruma"

 The white daruma doll is used to pray for passing your exams and achieving your goals. The white daruma is also a color that has existed since the beginning of making "Daruma" and has a deep history in Japan. The white color also is linked to an image of purity, so it’s very refreshing to look at. If you can’t decide what daruma doll color to go with, we recommend this one.


Here, I explained in detail all about "Daruma". Surprisingly deep meaning is hidden behind the cute and rolling appearance of "Daruma", the true meaning of the word itself, the origin and history of Daruma, and how we can apply it in our daily lives.

We did learn not only about Daruma but also about one of the most interesting Japanese traditions and cultures.

If you incorporate the teachings and attitudes of Bodhidharma Daishi into your life, you may be able to fulfill all of the desires and goals you wish to achieve.

Please do your best to work hard for your wish while carefully considering the meaning of "Daruma". "Daruma" will surely watch over you.

 Daruma collection of Waka store