November 1, 2023

“Daruma Dolls: Unraveling the Charm of Traditional Japanese Symbols”

If you’ve ever visited a Japanese shop or browsed through images of Japanese cultural items, you might have encountered a distinctive, round, red doll with a bold, yet enigmatic expression. These dolls are called “Daruma,” and they hold a special place in Japanese culture and hearts. Let’s delve into these captivating dolls’ origin, artistry, and significance.

Origin in Zen Buddhism: The Daruma’s Roots

The Daruma doll draws its inspiration from Bodhidharma (Daruma Daishi in Japanese), a revered Buddhist monk who founded Zen Buddhism in the 5th or 6th century. Bodhidharma’s unwavering meditation and dedication are symbolized by these dolls. According to the legend, he meditated so long that his limbs atrophied, which is why the Daruma doll is traditionally without arms or legs.

Scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma, by Hakuin Ekaku (1686 to 1769)
Scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma, by Hakuin Ekaku (1686 to 1769)

Buddhist Art and Daruma

In Buddhist art, the representation of Bodhidharma is quite distinctive, often characterized by his intense gaze and bearded face. This imagery strongly influences the Daruma doll’s facial features, encapsulating the spirit of determination and perseverance inherent in Zen Buddhism.

The Birth and Spread of Daruma Dolls


Originally, Daruma dolls emerged in the 17th century in the town of Takasaki. Crafted from paper-mâché and designed to return to an upright position when tilted, these dolls symbolize resilience and the Buddhist principle of “Nanakorobi Yaoki” (fall seven times, stand up eight). Over time, they became popular New Year gifts and a symbol of good luck, widely used to set goals or make wishes.

Daruma and the Japanese People

For many Japanese, the Daruma is not just an ornament but a motivational tool. When someone receives a Daruma, they typically fill in one eye while setting a goal or making a wish. Once the goal is achieved or the wish comes true, the other eye is filled in. This practice underscores a partnership between the doll and its owner – a commitment to meeting challenges and celebrating successes.

The Daruma, steeped in history and symbolism, isn’t just a doll; it’s a vivid emblem of persistence, hope, and the rich tapestry of Japanese culture.

Click on the image below to see the ceramic Daruma doll created by Yuko Hayashi currently on display at Kogei Art KYOTO site.

daruma ¥880,000(JPY)

daruma ¥680,000(JPY)