Knocked on My Knees Seven Times, I’ll Get Up Eight

Daruma dolls (達磨 Daruma?), also known as Daruma Dolls, are hollow and round Japanese wish dolls with no arms or legs.  They are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder and first patriarch of Zen.

Because of their low center of gravity, some types of Daruma Doll return to their upright position after being tilted to one side, like a Weeble. This has rendered the Daruma the symbol for optimism, for persistence, and for strong determination.

Based upon an older kind of self-righting doll known as a “little roly-poly priest” (起き上がり小法師 okiagari koboshi?), we know much about our modern-day equivalent from a 17th-century children’s song:

          Hi ni! fu ni!

Fundan Daruma ga
Akai zukin kaburi sunmaita!
Once! twice!
Ever the red-hooded Daruma
Heedlessly sits up again!

Some dolls have written characters on the cheeks explaining the kind of wish or desire the owner has in mind, such as protection of loved ones. The surname of the owner may be written on the chin. Until the wish has been granted, the Daruma is displayed in a high location in one’s home, typically close to other significant belongings such as a Butsudan (a Buddhist house altar).  Only a single Daruma is usually owned at one time.

Purchased in or near Japanese Buddhist temples, Daruma Dolls and can cost between 500 yen for small dolls (~5cm in height) to 10,000 yen or more for the largest dolls (~60cm in height). If the doll was purchased within a temple, the owner can return it for burning. Dolls purchased at a temple are marked — temples will refuse to burn those not exhibiting their own mark. Burning usually occurs at the year’s end. This is done as a purification ritual to let kami know that the wisher did not give up on the wish, but is on another path to make it come true.

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