Little red eggs? They are Daruma Dolls!

© Illustrated by MCYK Studio.

For those who had visited the Land of the Rising Sun (Japan), I’m sure you had brought home the cliché variety of KitKat or bottles of sake for your loved ones. If you want to be a little more original during your next trip to Japan, you might want to consider getting these beautifully designed Daruma Dolls that are handcrafted with high quality workmanship from the Japanese.

The Daruma is a traditional Japanese doll which people believe could help them achieve their goals and obtain good luck. During my past three trips to Japan, I had brought home these dolls to display on my shelves but little did I know about the history behind them… Until now. If you are like me, attracted by their designs, do stay on and read the rest of this post where I will explain their slightly disturbing origin, the types of dolls and how to use them.

So… what actually led to the rise of Daruma Dolls?

The Daruma dolls have symbolic representations where the shape was modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen sect of Buddhism. Zen believers stress the importance of meditation and takes no interest in doctrinal refinements. Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5/6th century CE and credited with the conveyance of Zen Buddhism practices to China and subsequently to Japan and eventually became very popular in the West from mid 20th century. Its actual origin is muddled with mystery as there the documentation of his life is mixed with legends.

Source: Buddha Weekly – Image of Bodhidharma 

According to one tradition, Bodhidharma stopped in a Shaolin monastery in China for sometime and continued his travels until he decided to meditate in a cave. He was famous for his practice of wall-gazing. Legend goes saying that Bodhidharma  meditated for nine years straight without moving, eyes fixated to the wall and seated in a cross-legged position without taking breaks or closing his eyes. Except for one occasion, after seven years. He was so infuriated with himself and grabbed a knife to cut off his very own eyelids to make sure that he will never fall asleep again. The pieces of eyelids which fell to the ground eventually sprouted green tea leaves which eventually became a belief among Asian people that drinking green tea helps one to stay awake. Of course, Science would explain that it is due to the caffeine inside it but legends explains that the tea was created because of the “eyelid-plant”.

The goriness does not end there… Bodhidharma also suffered from the loss of his four limbs where legends said that it had gradually withered and fell off his body due to nine whole years of immobility.

This is why the Daruma resembles the head and torso without all limbs. Also, it is believed to have exhibited all characteristics of Bodhidharma and it is often associated with the Japanese proverb ‘nanakorobi yaoki – 七転び八起き’ which means ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’. The Daruma might look unstable at first glance but just a mere push, it will still come right back up. It is a symbol of resilience and recuperation.

© Illustrated by MCYK Studio.

How to use Daruma Dolls?

I hope that the morbid history behind the Daruma Dolls did not scare you off and you might want to know more on how you can actually use them to your favor. These dolls are believed to be able to help one achieve their goals and dreams by providing them luck and the strength to be resilient. They are also popular gifts of encouragement in the Japanese culture where they are often commercialized by the Buddhist temples to help with goal setting.

Initially, the Daruma’s eyes are blank and you will have to make a wish and paint one of the eyes. Once your wish or goal is realised, you can then paint the other eye to thank the god for your achievement.

© Illustrated by MCYK Studio.

However, do note that these Daruma charms have an effectiveness of only one year. After a year, you should return it to the temple from where you had purchased it and burn them regardless of whether you had attained your goals. This is a symbol of freeing the god and it is not meant to be treated as giving up on one’s goals but it is a renewal of one’s vows by purchasing another Daruma. There is even a ceremony named Daruma Kuyo is held in several temples in Japan where tons of Daruma dolls are burnt altogether. The next ceremony will be held at the Nishiarai Daishi Temple in early Feb 2021.

Modern day Daruma

Let’s talk about the colors. In modern day Daruma designs, the color of the doll varies. The most common being red as it originated from Bodhidharma’s red robes. Also, in the Asian culture, red symbolizes prosperity, good luck and fortune. There was also another myth that the color red was due to the smallpox incident that occurred during the Edo period in Japan. Children who was diagnosed with the illness had to wear red hoods. If they died, they were often wrapped up in red funeral robes. As such, the Daruma are typically red as it associates with this myth and symbolizes resilience and wishing one to have a speedy recovery.

Today, there are many uses of the Daruma design as it could be vastly seen adorned as bracelet charms, pendants and even tattoos.

Source: tattoperfection

Even the Daruma doll’s facial hair has a symbolic meaning. The eyebrow represents the shape of the crane and the mustache takes after the tortoise. This was to match the Japanese proverb of ‘the crane lives 1,000 years, the turtle 10,000’.

Nowadays, the designs have shifted to using cats and many other forms to be incorporated in Daruma. This inspired me to create and design my own series of Daruma jewellery. I hope that this blog post helped you understand the origins of Daruma dolls and perhaps encourage you to get one during your next visit to the rich heritage and cultural land of the rising sun. 🙂

© Designed by MCYK Studio/ Infinity & Me.
© Designed by MCYK Studio/ Infinity & Me.

Odaiba & Tokyo City – Day 9 & 10

Last two days in Tokyo! Since we had some time to spare, the Cat Café Mocha is a must-go for cat lovers. It’s a place for you to touch all the majestic and beautiful coated cats ranging from species such as the Ragdoll (my favourite!), Scottish Fold, British Shorthair and many more… Each café layout is different and unique. I went to the Shinjuku – largest cat café in Japan and Ikebukuro West branch – which is smaller. One conclusion… it’s a 10/10! Though most cats tend to be sleeping, we could still stroke and talk to them but just not carry them if you do not want the shopkeepers to “come after” you. Cat treats can also be purchased at ¥500. It’s the happiness seeing the kitties coming to you to have a lick at the sugar treats as some would even stand on their two hind feet.

Odaiba City is the next place to go especially if you are a Gundam fan or you have time to indulge in more shopping! Odaiba City is becoming increasingly popular with tourists as it is originally built from reclaimed land. There are lots of shopping, a Ferris Wheel, Onsen, symbolic Fuji TV station, VR Indoor Arcade, Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge and many more. You can expect to spend an entire day if not more, to be able to cover every landmark on the list. This one-day trip only allowed me to do shopping at Diver City and Venus Fort, view the Megaweb Toyota City cars on display.

The Unicorn Gundam outside the Diver City is a replication of the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam where there is a daily light show to see it transform to the Gundam in Destroy mode where the frame could expand with pink lights. Unfortunately, this attraction was slightly disappointing as I thought that there would be more movements and the entire show only lasted for a short 3 minutes. Nevertheless, I had a great time visiting the Gundam Base Shop where I looted bags of limited edition Gundam. Totally worth it!

Kyoto Arima Onsen & Kobe Luminarie – Day 7 & 8

Going free & easy in Japan is the best! Why? You get to take your time to experience and immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of Japan instead of having to rush to keep up with the tour group. I will also be posting travel guides on how to get to the touristy locations, so stay tuned for that!

Arima is famous for its onsens and in particular the two public bathhouse – Kin no Yu and Gin no Yu. Kin no Yu (Arima golden hot-spring public spa) is tagged as Japan’s first holy spirit spring and it is the oldest hot spring in Japan. Located outside Kin no Yu, Taiko no Ashiyu is a Foot bath and best part of all… It’s FREE! There were so many Japanese indulging in the hot spring for feet that is high in sodium chloride and maintained at 42.3 degree Celsius where people say that it could heal bruises and muscle ache. Pretty cool huh?!

We spent about the whole morning at Arima till around 3pm where we made our way to the famous Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street and Nankinmachi (Kobe’s Chinatown). The shopping street spans approximately 1.2km with around 300+ stores between Motomachi and Kobe Station. Best part of the trip was to be able to immerse in the beautiful lights at Kobe Luminarie – an annual winter light-up held in memory of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Although we queued for at least 1 hour just to see the lights, it was all worth it! I must say that the Japanese are extremely patient as everyone queued up in an orderly fashion. Lastly, we concluded our Kobe exploration with the famous Kobe Beef! Though the portion is really small and it’s pretty expensive, the experience of tasting and seeing how the chef cook the meat in front of you is really amazing. No regrets.

R&R at Osaka and Kyoto Wonderland – Day 5 & 6

After the rejuvenating trip to Nagano, we headed back to Ōsaka 大阪 – Japan’s second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. Dōtonbori is definitely a must-go tourist spot to see the illuminated signboards, buzzling nightlife and entertainment area. Not forgetting the Instagrammable billboard for confectionery company Glico displaying the image of a runner crossing the finishing line. It is an icon of Osaka within Japan. We had our dinner there and headed back to rest and recharge for the next day’s adventure to take the Hozugawa River Cruise from Kameoka Station to Saga Arashiyama.

Hozugawa-kudari which stands for the Hozugawa River Boat ride was an eye-opening experience and the whole trip lasted for about 1.5 hours (be sure to empty your bladders before taking this ride!). The journey spans across 16km where a group of maximum 16 riders (winter boat) could go on board. The boatmen were amazing as we were all marveled by their strength and resilience as the group of 3 took turns to row the boat. They held on to bamboo poles to guide the boat away from rocks. You could also bring along snacks and drinks on board whilst enjoying the scenery. Great way to relax and soak yourself in the fresh winter air. Along the journey, the vast greenery and rocks with many interesting names like frog rock, book rock, headgear rock and many more were seen along the way. We sailed past rapids and mysterious deep pools.

Upon arrival to the end point at the Saga Arashiyama 嵐山, we could see the famous Togetsukyo Bridge (“Moon Crossing Bridge”) – well-known, central landmark. There are many small smalls and restaurants nearby leading up to the bamboo groves. The Bamboo Groves are walking paths that makes a nice place to stroll after lunch. However, there were too many tourists and it was difficult to take a photo with no one behind. Perhaps walking all the way into the groves might grant you access to take many beautiful photographs, but we decided to head over to the Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 instead.

It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates which leads to the sacred Mt.Inari. Along the trail, there were many fox statues. Why? They are thought to be Inari’s messengers and Inari is the Shinto god of rice. The entire trail of torii gates were donated by individuals and companies. The donor’s name and date of donation are inscribed on the back of each gate. Admission is free and it is open 24/7 should you wish to take a stroll in the majestic sea of torii gates. Though I am assuming that it might get a little creepy when it’s dark and definitely not a destination for the faint-hearted. Other than that, I would give this whole Arashiyama experience an 8/10!

Monkeys! Onsen! in Nagano – Day 3 & 4

Rise and shine! First time visiting Nagano where we had to take a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano early in the morning and take a train to Yudanaka station to check in to the Kambayashi Hotel Senjukaku. Upon arrival at the station, there was a car arranged by the hotel to pick us up from the station. It took around 10 minutes to reach our accommodation. Upon arrival, the service was great – staff greeted us and served us hot ocha to warm ourselves, mochi snack, explained to us how we could visit the snow monkeys and showed us to our tatami style room.

Hotspring Onsen Time!!! This hotel was pretty good as most of the occupants are the locals and there is an outdoor and indoor onsen. Despite the cold, we tried the outdoor one and surprisingly the water is way hotter than the one inside despite the chilly weather.

Rise and shine! It’s the snow monkey visiting day! After a luxurious breakfast, we hiked for around 1.7KM to reach the onsen that the monkeys were taking their bath. The longer I stood there to snap pictures of the monkeys in their natural habitat the colder I got. Some monkeys soak themselves in the hot water with their faces red as an tomato. Such enjoyment as they helped each other pick out tiny stuff —— LICE! They even ate them after finding one.