What's a Daruma?

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This text is taken from the Daruma Festival program.

Darumas are the most familiar and delightful of all the folk toys of Japan. Although they come in different sizes with different faces, they all had the same origin.

It is believed that in the sixth century a Buddhist saint known as Bodhidharma sat in meditation for nine years, losing the use of his legs in the bargain. One legend tells us that on realizing he had fallen asleep one night after years of wakeful praryer, he cut off his unreliable eyelids and threw them to the ground where they sprang up as the first tea plants. Scholars and saints from that time on had tea to keep them awake.

That stoic Bodhidharma of ancient India generated a whole legion of cheery tumbling dolls that came to be known in old Japan as daruma. Most often you will see the red daruma or Toyooka daruma with his black mustache and bland white eyes. Heavily weighted at the base, he rights himself quickly when toppled over, suggesting perseverance, dauntless courage and final success. When you buy one of these daruma, if you have recently experienced good fortune, you are obliged to paint in one of his pupils, promising him the reamining one when he has granted you another stroke of luck. Buying a slightly larger daruma each year can ease your path through life.

Not as common as the red daruma, but even more charming are the smaller female darumas who have the classic shape but with complete and sweet faces.

The Hachiman daruma has a bland white face, a coat of red with a design of pine, bamboo and plum and is used often as a New Year gift or a get-well present, but notably as a good luck talisman when placed on the tansu (chest of drawers) of a new bride.

Another sweet-faced daruma, known as Hime daruma, guarantees the health of children who pet it affectionately. It is also used to hasten an invalid back to health and is sold primarily at New Year. Hime daruma is easily recognizable with its child's hair-style and black bangs.

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