This roly-poly character, usually painted red, is symbol of good luck and wish fulfillment in Japan. His name, Daruma, is a nickname for the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who founded what is known as Zen Buddhism in China during the fifth or sixth century. Bodhidharma achieved enlightenment after spending nine years in a cave practicing zazen or seated meditation. He cut off his eye lids to keep himself from dozing, and his arms and legs withered away from lack of use. No wonder he looks like he is suffering.
Two interesting stories are associated with daruma. One is that his cut-off eye lids produced the first tea plants, which explains why Zen practitioners sip tea to stay awake during meditation. Second, in China Bodhidharma was sometimes referred to as “The Blue-Eyed Barbarian,” which reinforces the Japanese belief that he came to China from Persia.
At the beginning of the year daruma dolls with blank eye balls are often sold at Zen temples; you see them lined up on shelves, looking a lot like this unusual joined pair, in stalls as you approach the temple. The purchaser of a daruma is supposed to set a personal goal for the coming year, and then paint in one of the eyeballs. When that goal is achieved the owner paints in the other eyeball. At the end of the year the owner is supposed to return the daruma to the temple where they bought to be burned in a bonfire.
I can’t help but think that hashioki manufacturers are missing a marketing opportunity here. Wouldn’t daruma chopstick rests with blank eyeballs be great? Then the purchaser would be reminded of their goal for the year every time they used their daruma hashioki with its one painted eyeball, and they could celebrate with a special meal when the time came to paint in the other eyeball. Then they could purchase a new daruma hashioki for next year’s goal. This is definitely a missed opportunity for hashioki manufacturers.
I personally find the daruma figure to be very appealing. In fact, a photo of a daruma hashioki with lots of soul appears on my business card. But more about that daruma hashioki in the future.