Japanese Daruma: An Easy Guide For Travelers [2024]

Japanese Daruma An Easy Guide For Travelers [2024]

If you’ve done any exploring around Tokyo or other parts of Japan, you’ve probably noticed cute little red roly-poly guys sitting on store counters or lining temple shelves. Yup, I’m talking about the traditional Japanese daruma doll (達磨)!

These Japanese daruma figures seem to pop up everywhere, so you gotta be wondering, what’s the deal with them?

Well, after working in Japan and getting hooked on these babies myself, let me break it down for you travelers. Daruma actually comes from an ancient Buddhist legend and has become an awesome symbol for achieving goals! How sweet is that?

It’s said that if you get one for yourself and do this ritual of filling in its blank eyes when you reach your targets, it’ll bring huge luck and motivation to tackle the next thing on your list! Talk about the ultimate souvenir to make your friends jealous, am I right?

In this post, I wanna share everything there is to know about picking the perfect daruma and the best Japanese phrases during your Japan trip. Like where the whole idea began, what the different doll parts symbolize, where to find traditional handmade ones, and even how these little red fellas can inspire YOU to stay focused on your goals long after leaving Japan!


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What Is A Japanese Daruma Doll?

Japanese daruma dolls are considered by the locals as total wish granters. When displayed in homes or shops around Japan, they bring good luck and future success. But there’s a little ritual you gotta do first before the magic happens!

Whoever puts up the daruma makes a sweet wish or sets some big goal, then colors in one eye (usually the left) to “activate” it. Doing this marks your commitment to making that wish come true, ya know? Kinda like you and the daruma doll are working together as a team to manifest your dreams. Once you achieve your desire – cha-ching baby! – you fill in the other eye as a victory celebration.

But if you’re wondering how these squatty red guys came to represent wishes and dreams, it goes back to an ancient Chinese monk named Bodhidharma. The Chinese Buddhist monk’s perseverance and focus carved a really prominent mark in Japanese culture.

Why Are Daruma Dolls Round With No Limbs?

So if you’ve seen daruma, you know they’re these round-shaped red dudes with no arms, legs, or eyes. Kinda funky looking if you ask me! But there’s meaning behind the madness with how they were designed.

See, Bodhidharma was so intense with his meditation that he supposedly sat perfectly still, staring at a wall for years. Legend says he sat so long without moving that his limbs just shriveled up and fell off from atrophy. So when his image got transformed into daruma dolls, they made them limbless as a nod to his intense practice. That’s why they’re literally just a head and body.

Why Are Daruma Dolls Painted Red

Why Are Daruma Dolls Painted Red?

There’s debate about why red became the color choice for the traditional Daruma dolls. But many connect it back to Zen Buddhism, representing the intense fire and energy behind Bodhidharma’s determination and focus to share his teachings.

Others say the red color makes the dolls stand out and catch people’s attention, inspiring them to channel that same passion into accomplishing their own wishes and dreams! So the bold crimson shade came to signify passion, vigor, and the motivation to wait patiently for success like our main man Bodhidharma preached.

Today, modern daruma dolls don different colors aside form the classic red. Depending on where you purchase one, you can even find dolls decorated with kawaii Japanese art and different regional symbolisms. Here are some of the modern colors and their meaning according to the locals.

BlackAchievement in entrepreneurial or business endeavors
BlueAdvancement in educational pursuits and mental growth
GoldAttainment of substantial wealth and financial success
GreenEnhanced physical well-being and health
OrangeFertility and a sense of security
PinkFostering of romantic feelings and passionate bonds
PurpleLong-term well-being and preservation of health
RedFortuitous events and prosperity
WhiteHarmonious relationships and affection
YellowProsperity in financial matters

How Are Japanese Daruma Dolls Made?

Believe it or not, daruma has been handmade in Japan for hundreds of years! Their creation traces back to the time when farmers would get monks passing through to bless them for a good harvest. The dolls became symbols of luck for bountiful crops.

These OG daruma were crafted in Takasai way back when. And even now in modern times, this area is still known TODAY for its traditional daruma production using classic techniques. That’s some incredible craftsmanship legacy!

The classic way it’s done is by making hollow paper-mâché figures from washi paper on carved wooden molds. So they form the basic daruma shape first with the paper strips before letting them fully dry. Once dry, the local will then hand paint every doll. And the best part is that when you buy in Japan, no two are ever the same since they don’t use dies or machines!

Japanese daruma shop

Japanese Words For Buying A Daruma Doll

When you’re looking to take home one of these awesome dolls as a souvenir, it helps to know a few phrases to chat with the shop owners. Now, my Japanese is a bit rusty, but here are some key ones I still have locked and loaded to get your daruma shopping done right!

“Daruma o kudasai”

Japanese: ダルマをください
This means, “Please give me a daruma.” You know, for when you’re ready to fork over the yen and make a purchase! Just bust out this polite request.

“Ikura desu ka?”

Japanese: いくらですか?
You gotta ask how much it costs, right? This translates to the classic “How much is it?” so you don’t get ripped off.

“Kore o kudasai”

Japanese: これをください
If you wanna specify which exact daruma you want, point that red guy out and say, “I’ll take this, please!”

Ready To Buy Your Traditional Japanese Doll?

Pretty epic stuff, right? After this crash course, you’re basically a Daruma pro ready to scout out an authentic doll on your own Japanese adventure!

We uncovered why their funky design captures Bodhidharma’s determination, how the eye-filling ritual inspires manifesting your dreams, and key phrases to snag that perfect souvenir. So now I gotta ask…

Don’t you kinda want a little red buddy of your own to remind you to crush your goals? I’m feeling the motivation already!

If exploring Japan has you amped to learn more sweet cultural facts and helpful phrases, you gotta get the Ling app in your back pocket. Ling will absolutely hook you up with insider travel tips to sound like a local, making all the temple discoveries and hidden Tokyo ramen joints super easy.

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