SEP. 11, 2013
How much do you know about daruma? Historically, there was the man called Daruma-daishi (aka Bhodhidharma), a Buddhist monk who is credited with spreading the practice of Zen Buddhism into China. Then, there are the daruma dolls, paper mache prayer tokens made and distributed throughout Japan for the sake of health, longevity, and success. These limbless dolls have an approximate 400-year history of bringing encouragement and good fortune to the people of Japan.
However, in recent years the production and subsequent purchase of daruma has fallen. People are losing track of their daruma dolls, forgetting the purpose for which they serve, or at a loss of where to buy them in the first place.
Now, in an effort to bring back appreciation for the humble daruma, the Kagoyaka company in Yamanashi Prefecture is modernizing the traditional doll into something they call the Koshu～Color Daruma.
The tradition of keeping daruma dolls as good luck tokens originated in Gunma Prefecture, though the creation and sale of these bearded ornaments has since spread to many regions throughout Japan. Although every region decorates their daruma in a slightly different fashion, the symbolism remains basically the same. The eyebrows of the daruma are painted in the shape of a crane, while the beard mimics the shell of a tortoise–both animals which embody longevity, thus blessing the family who owns the doll with long and healthy lives. The main purpose of a daruma, however is to help its owner achieve much more specific goals.
When a daruma is first sold, the eyes are purposefully left empty and white. The owner fills in one eye of the daruma and puts the piece on display until their goal is achieved. Seeing the one-eyed daruma is meant to act as a reminder that one’s work is unfinished and one must continue to strive for achievement. Another explanation for this practice is that the daruma itself holds some level of power over the world and that promising to fill in the daruma’s second eye upon the realization of a person’s goals will motivate the daruma to grant his or her wish.
The color of a daruma also holds some special meaning, in that different colored daruma are said to bring good fortune to different aspects of a person’s everyday life. For example, red is universally accepted as the color of victory, making it the color of choice for politicians hoping to win their campaigns. Gold, on the other hand, always symbolizes financial gain and stability. Daruma come in many colors besides these, though the symbolic meaning often varies depending on the region.
For one daruma production company in Yamanashi, this correlation between color and appropriate request was seen as too limiting to sell in this modern age. That’s why the Kogayaka company has created the Koshu～Color Daruma in 30 different color variations! They encourage customers to wish whatever they like upon the daruma most suited to their tastes. This high selection of styles wrapped up in a very modern-looking package design is expected to inspire a new surge in daruma sales, hopefully inspiring people to look into the more traditional Koshu daruma styles and techniques as well. It is important to the people who produce these daruma that the story and the history behind the bearded doll be protected and perpetuated for many generations to come.