In Japan, the Dharma doll, pronounced daruma (達磨) in Japanese, is often seen as a symbol of good luck and perseverance.
This doll takes its name after Dharma, the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidarma. Because of Bodhidarma’s perseverance of many years meditating and not moving, legend is his legs and arms fell off due to atrophy.
This is why these red dolls, usually made out of papier-mâché, have no arms and legs and depicts the face of a bearded man with very large eyes. As a child, I remember they used to frighten me and to be honest, they really aren’t cute. However, personal opinions aside, because of its unique shape with a rounded heavier bottom, no matter how many times the doll is pushed over, it quickly becomes upright, again symbolizing perseverance.
There is a Japanese idiom that comes from the Daruma: Nanakorobi-yaoki (七転び八起き)
It means “seven falls and eight rises” indicating an undaunted spirit. Although one may fail seven times, they will succeed the eighth time as long as they keep an undaunted spirit.
Daruma are often sold without their eyes drawn. The custom is to paint one eye and make a wish. Once the wish comes true, the other eye is painted. Because of this tradition, they are usually sold during New Year for people to make New Year’s resolutions. But they are also extremely popular with politicians. Daruma comes in all sizes, so during elections, the candidates buy the largest daruma possible in hopes of winning. The elected candidate, surrounded by his or her supporters is often shown painting in the other eye of the daruma as a sign of success. I wonder what happens to all those darumas with only one eye….
Actually, at the end of the year many bring their daruma to the temple. There is a special ceremony called Daruma Kuyo, whereby they burn the daruma together at the temple, expressing gratitude.