If you are in Tokyo in January you may be wondering about the proliferation of rather funny looking eyeless dolls. Known as the Daruma doll, these dolls are believed to bring good luck and are typically bought in the New Year as people set their goals and aspirations for the year ahead.
Looking and acting rather like a spooky version of a weeble (a round plastic toy that ‘doesn’t fall down’), Daruma dolls are generally made from papier-maché and are weighted at the bottom so they always land on their feet. Typically red in color but varying in design according to the region where it was made and the artist who created it, the dolls are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. Typically, the Japanese will make a wish in the presence of the Daruma doll and, upon fulfillment of that wish, color in one of its eyes.
The dolls on display at fairs all over Tokyo are called the Tama Daruma dolls, which are produced in the Tama region of western Tokyo. Once a region known for its silk farming, the farmers used Daruma as charms to protect their silkworm cocoons. The Daruma’s red paint was made from safflower plants with bacteria-killing properties, which was believed to protect the silkworms from sickness.
Daruma doll fairs are held in various locations throughout Tokyo in January, with the main fairs taking place at Haijima Daishi Shrine (Akishima City), Ome City, and Takahata Fudoson Temple (Hino City). An additional Daruma doll fair is also held in March at the Jindaiji Temple – presumably for those with last-minute resolutions!
If nothing else, the doll that always land on its feet is a reminder that, when you feel overwhelmed by your problems or face an obstacle in the way of your goals, then you need to just pick yourself up and carry on!