Japanese American Traditions
Daruma: Dolls of Determination
A favorite souvenir of tourists visiting Japan is the Daruma doll. These figures—rounded, usually red, and often made of paper-mache—can be found virtually everywhere in shops. Despite their popularity, the true origins of the doll are often unknown by buyers.
Daruma was an Indian priest originally named, Bodhidharma, and the founder of Zen Buddhism. According to history, he is noted for meditating in a cave for nine years without moving or blinking his eyes. Because of this intense experience, he reportedly lost the use of his arms and legs, and therefore, Daruma dolls are generally without arms or legs.
Beliefs about the exact powers of these dolls vary. However, the eyes and the size of the dolls are of particular importance. When purchased, the eyes of the doll are white circles without pupils. To make use of the Daruma doll’s power, the owner must make a wish or create a goal, filling in the pupil of the doll’s right eye. When the wish or the goal is realized, the pupil of the remaining eye is filled in.
The size of these dolls is also significant. Collectors should start with a small Daruma, acquiring dolls that are gradually larger in size with each wish and taking the last and largest one to a shrine as an offering. People, often hoping for good luck and success for a specific occasion, purchase Daruma dolls. To the Japanese people, these dolls are a symbol of determination. After all, when these rounded dolls tip over, they quickly right themselves—keeping in character with the Japanese themselves.
Here is our selection of merchandise featuring the daruma image. Good luck!