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A bunch of daruma dolls piled on top of each other.
A bunch of daruma dolls piled on top of each other.

Daruma Doll Demystified: A Complete Guide to the Japanese Icon!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published Time
Posted on May 31, 2023

The Daruma doll has been a big part of Japanese culture since ancient times. Their distinctive red color and exaggerated face make them unmistakable amongst traditional Japanese toys and charms. With wild eyes and a bushy beard, the Daruma dolls protect your goals! 

You’ve likely seen them just about everywhere in Japan. But few know the fascinating history behind their cute appearance. Read on to learn everything you ever wanted about Daruma dolls!

What is a Daruma Doll?

Daruma dolls are cultural icons and traditional Japanese good-luck charms. You can recognize daruma by its rounded shape, bright colors, and striking, open-eyed face. Japanese people have been placing daruma dolls in their homes for centuries. 

A red Dharma toy.
It’s a traditional gift for students or anyone who wants to achieve anything. Image via Shutterstock

Traditionally, people make daruma dolls out of paper and paint them in red. The body is round, with no arms or legs, and both eyes remain blank when you buy them.

Use daruma to make wishes about a goal you’d like to achieve! The ritual is to paint the left eye on the doll and make a wish. After it comes true, you paint the right eye. Many young generations have recently held a daruma because of its adorableness and unique look. The Daruma doll has been a big part of Japanese culture because of its history and meaning! There are even snacks and drinks inspired by the doll!

History of the Daruma Doll

Don’t let their cute looks fool you–the daruma doll draws inspiration from Bodhidharma, a monk believed to have founded Zen Buddhism and Japanese tea. Although his origins are mysterious, he seems to have lived between the 5th and 6th centuries. 

Two red daruma dolls.
Daruma dolls are symbols of good luck! Image via Shutterstock

The legend goes that he meditated, eyes to a wall, in a seated position for nine years. His persistence was so strong that he continued meditating without breaks when his arms, legs, and eyelids fell off. This story and Bodhidharma’s dedication are the basis for the daruma’s round shape.

Everything about the daruma’s design has deep roots and meaning, down to minor details. This doll is more profound in symbolism than a simple household item. Originally, daruma dolls had weights at the bottom, allowing them to stand up no matter how often they fell.

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Meaning of the Daruma Doll

We’ve established that Daruma is a good luck talisman, but there’s a little more to it than simply making a wish. In fact, daruma isn’t about granting wishes; that’s not in the spirit of Buddhism or any Japanese philosophy. Daruma dolls are constant reminders of what the Japanese call the ganbaru spirit (the ability to persevere).

Someone painting a small red Dharma doll.
They are simple yet powerful works of art. Image via Shutterstock

Buying a daruma is about having a talisman that reminds you of your life goals. Drawing in the eye of the daruma is a promise to yourself that you will follow your dream. 

That’s why Daruma dolls have such determined expressions–they never give up. Knock them down, and they’ll bounce back up. A daruma doll represents perseverance and strength. Daruma dolls are part of an expansive family of okiagari-koboshi (roly-poly dolls). 

The Most Popular Daruma Dolls

Daruma dolls, iconic symbols of perseverance and goal-setting, come in various colors, each with a story and purpose. Understanding the significance behind each color is essential in harnessing their power to help achieve your desired goals or wishes. You may even find them at flea markets!

By delving into the meanings behind the colors, you can align your aspirations with the specific attributes represented by the Daruma dolls, amplifying your journey toward success and fulfillment!

Good Luck (Red)

The red daruma is the most common as red is a lucky color in Japan. We’d bet that it’s still the most popular one for dolls sold in Japan. They are used to pray for prosperity. The red Daruma doll is a lucky charm to ward off misfortune and guarantee family security.

Red daruma dolls invite good fortune in the most general sense. So, if you like the color and want to go the traditional route, red it’s always a good choice.  

Health and Longevity (Purple)

Purple daruma dolls are especially for health and longevity. This color is also suitable for self-improvement and enlightenment. If someone wishes to build a personality trait, this is the color!

A set of purple round Dharma toys.
Purple represents good health or self-improvement. Image via Shutterstock

Purple also displays individuality, helps people connect better with each other, and enhances mental stability. It represents a regal color associated with royalty, symbolizing qualities such as character and integrity.

Wealth and Prosperity (Gold)

A gold daruma doll.
Gold represents wealth and prosperity. Image via Shutterstock

The radiant gold Daruma is a symbol of wealth and prosperity that captures attention with its dazzling charm. This golden marvel isn’t just a decoration – it’s a powerful tool believed to attract financial abundance. Many turn to the Gold Daruma with a hopeful heart, seeking to draw more money into their lives. Its golden allure promises prosperity, making it a cherished companion in the journey toward financial growth.

Success in Business (Black)

The black Daruma doll symbolizes success in business since black is a powerful color that motivates people. Kuro-ji (or being “in the black”; making a profit) means the black Daruma doll will invite such business fortune. And because it also represents power and strength, black can promote stability regarding a business’s money flow.

A black daruma doll.
Black represents business success. Image via Shutterstock

Black represents power, strength, prevention, and bodyguard. So a black Daruma doll makes an excellent gift for someone starting a new business. The black daruma is also meant to ward off bad luck because the black color does not stain other colors.

Purity and Peace (White)

We recommend this one if you can’t decide what Daruma doll color to choose. It was one of the earliest kinds of daruma dolls produced in Japan. White also stands for purity, not only in terms of experience but also in purpose. So a simple white daruma would be perfect for someone practicing a martial art such as karate or judo. 

A pile of white and gold Dharma toys.
White represents purity. Image via Shutterstock

A white daruma can also inspire those interested in bushido (the code of honor of the samurai). White emphasizes the way, the path, rather than the result. So, while white daruma dolls and goal setting go together, they remind us to pay attention to the process. White symbolizes calm and peace, so it can be an excellent gift for newlyweds to bring a harmonious household.  

The daruma dolls in Japan have become a symbol of perseverance and good luck. It has become even more popular recently, with people hoping it will help make all their dreams come true! It makes goal-setting fun since you can color in a doll’s eyes.

Remember to put it on your desk or dresser all year to remind you what you want. Have you seen a Daruma doll before? Do you have a favorite Daruma doll type? Let us know in the comments below!

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