The Daruma (or dharma), a popular good luck doll in Japan, symbolises perseverence and the ability to achieve success despite the presence of adversity or misfortune. Daruma are round, armless and legless dolls, made from papier mache in varying sizes from centimetres up to metres. They are modelled on the ancient Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism, who is said to have lost the use of his arms and legs after meditating for nine years. Hollow but weighted at their base, Daruma always try to right themselves when knocked over and are closely linked to the Japanese proverb 七転八起 “nanakorobi yaoki” which translates as “fall seven times and stand up eight”.
The Daruma is commonly used as a wishing doll. It comes with two blank eyes, one of which is painted in when a person sets out on a task. The presence of the one-eyed Daruma acts as a constant reminder of the unfinished task. Once the task is completed the second eye can be filled in.
Daruma are traditionally made in red. This is probably a reflection of the red garments a high ranking priest would have worn. Red is also a colour associated with protecting against illnesses in Japan: therefore, traditionally Daruma were often given to children to guard them against diseases such as small pox. Nowadays, Daruma can be purchased in a variety of colours, with the colour of your Daruma being relevant to the task you are undertaking.
The Japanese word for shi (four) sounds like the word for death: for this reason, gifts are rarely given in sets of four. Instead five, a significant number in Buddhism, is a commonly used number for sets of items in Japan. As well as selling individual Daruma, Japanya sells a goshiki (five colour) set based on the five elements of nature and the feng shui guardians of direction: earth (yellow dragon, centre), wood (blue azure dragon, east), fire (red vermillion bird, south), metal (white tiger, west) and water (black tortoise, north).