What’s a Daruma Doll and How Did It Become a Symbol of Good Luck in Japan?

The “daruma doll” is a round and cute piece of interior decor that has a long history and is very popular in Japan. The modern version of the doll comes in many shapes and colors, so it’s normal to not know which one to get. That’s why in this article, we’ll discuss the meaning behind and history of the daruma doll so that you can choose one that’s best suited to making all your dreams come true.

What’s a Daruma Doll?

The daruma doll is a beloved symbol of good luck that Japanese people have been placing in their homes for centuries. In recent years, it has become even more popular, with people hoping it will help make all their dreams come true. However, the daruma doll is not just mere decoration. There’s a lot of meaning and history behind it.

In this section, we’ll discuss the meaning behind the daruma doll, how it came to be so popular, and the real-life person who inspired it. We hope that knowing more about the daruma doll will make you love it even more.

▶ Interested in purchasing your own Japanese doll? Check out all the available options here.

The Origin of the Daruma Doll

Wikimedia Commons / Artanisen 

The daruma doll is based on the real-life Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. Legend goes that he spent nine years facing a wall while practicing zazen (seated meditation done in a cross-legged position) until his limbs atrophied. He was born in India and introduced Zen Buddhism to China. In Japan, his teachings were primarily taken up by the samurai who popularized it all over the country.

To honor Bodhidharma, a limbless round doll was constructed in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333). Then, during the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573), Japan was introduced to the “okiagari-koboshi”: the self-righting acolyte doll, a type of toy with a rounded bottom that made it impossible to topple.

The daruma doll as we know it today was first manufactured during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), when the limbless round doll and okiagari-koboshi were merged into one. The idea was that the new doll would symbolize not giving up, no matter what hardships befell you.

The Teachings of Bodhidharma, the Monk Who Inspired the Daruma Doll

Bodhidharma is said to have written the Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices, the title of which alludes to the two entrances to self-discipline and the four practices to help you achieve that. The ultimate goal of the treatise is to help elevate people by sharpening their minds and emphasizing the importance of taking personal responsibility and patience.

The treatise also talks about the importance of finding your own way of living a sincere and honest life, something that is impossible to fail at if you just try. The daruma doll embodies those teachings and helps you achieve your dreams and goals.

Why Do People Place Daruma Dolls in Their Homes?

The daruma doll became a symbol of good luck during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). The doll’s red color has long been believed to ward off evil, and was even used to protect people from epidemics. This eventually evolved into the belief that the daruma doll can help make your dreams come true.

Why Do People Draw Eyes on the Daruma Doll?

In Japan, daruma dolls start off without any eyes drawn on. When you want one of them to help you achieve your dreams, you first draw its left eye and wait for your wish to come true. Then you can draw its right eye on. However, Japanese people didn’t always do this.

The custom of drawing eyes on the daruma doll supposedly started due to a smallpox epidemic during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Since smallpox can affect eyesight, the daruma doll with its big, healthy eyes became very popular. With time, eyeless daruma dolls, on which people could draw whatever eyes they wanted, started to be manufactured.

Related article: ▶ Daruma Dolls: Which Eye to Paint First? How to Properly Dispose of Them Abroad?

What Do the Different Daruma Doll Colors Mean?

When people hear the word “daruma doll,” they usually think about a red doll with a scary face. During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), most daruma dolls were indeed red, though many were also white. However, since the 1930s, daruma dolls in many other colors, each one symbolizing something different, are now being created.

In this section, we will discuss the exact meaning of the most popular daruma doll colors so that you can choose one that’s best suited to helping you achieve your dreams.

The Meaning of the Black Daruma Doll

Source: BECOS

The black daruma doll symbolizes success in business since black is a strong and powerful color that gets people motivated. The color is also connected to the business term “in the black,” meaning “to be profitable,” which is why the black daruma doll came to be known as a talisman that attracts stable income and success in business.

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The Meaning of the Yellow Daruma Doll

Source: BECOS

Since yellow is the color of grain, the yellow daruma doll came to symbolize bountiful harvests and, with it, economic prosperity. Yellow is also a very cheerful color, so it often appears in gifts celebrating the opening of a store or getting a new job.

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The Meaning of the Golden Daruma Doll

Source: BECOS

The golden daruma doll symbolizes monetary gains. Because of its distinctive color, it’s not just used in homes but also offices and other places that could use a little light and color. If you’re praying for more money, this is the daruma doll to help you out with it.

*The golden daruma doll in the picture above is no longer available

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The Meaning of the Red Daruma Doll

Source: BECOS

Red has been used for daruma dolls for centuries as the color is said to ward off evil. Red daruma dolls were primarily talismans used to prevent illnesses and disasters, and have the longest history in Japan. They are also used to pray for familial bliss and prosperity, so they’ve remained popular to this day.

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The Meaning of the White Daruma Doll

Source: BECOS

The white daruma doll is used to pray for passing your exams and achieving your goals. It was one of the earliest kinds of daruma dolls to be produced in Japan. The white color also is linked to an image of purity, so it’s very refreshing to look at. If you can’t decide what daruma doll color to go with, we recommend this one.

Buy White Daruma Dolls Here

Have You Fallen in Love With Daruma Dolls Yet?

We hope that you enjoyed this explanation of the origin and meaning of daruma dolls, which hide a lot of serious history behind their cutesy, round image. The dolls also teach us that if you live your life according to the teachings of Bodhidharma, there is nothing that you can’t accomplish. So, think carefully about what you want to get out of life, choose the right colored daruma doll, and let it watch over you and help make your dreams a reality.

Related articles:

▶ 6 Japanese Lucky Charms: The Allure of the Daruma and Lucky Cat

▶ Japanese Crafts: The Complete Guide to Maneki Neko (Japanese Lucky Cats)

▶ The Complete Guide to Traditional Japanese Crafts

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*These products may not be able to be shipped to certain countries. Please see the retailer’s website for more information.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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