Thursday, January 6, 2011

Daruma Project

Since today is the Sixth of January, I decided to post about one of my favorite Japanese talisman of good luck : Daruma Dolls.

Why today, you might ask? Well today marks the beginning of the 2 days fair in Takasaki where people go to buy their Daruma Doll.

But what is a Daruma doll?

Essentially, Daruma dolls are paper maché dolls. A big round head that represent Dharma (Bodhidharma). It is usually painted in red with a white face where you can find the design of a crane (the eyebrow like feature) and a turtle (the moustache like feature) two animal considered as being lucky for Japanese people.

The legend (as reproduce from this web site:

The best-known legends say he attained enlightenment after meditating in a cave for seven years (some say nine years) without blinking or moving his eyes. In most legends, this occurred while Bodhidharma was facing a cave wall at the Shorinji Temple on Mt Song in China. During those years of meditation, his arms and legs atrophied, shriveled up, and fell off. Legend also credits Bodhidharma with cutting off his eyelids. Apparently he dozed off during meditation, and in anger, he cut off his eyelids, which fell to the ground and sprouted into China's first green tea plants.

To know more about Daruma dolls I strongly suggest you visit Wikipedia  and this web site.

But Where can I find a Daruma doll?

Although Takasaki produces 80% of the dolls, you can find them for sell all over Japan. The price varies greatly and so does the size. You can buy small ones the size of a golf ball or as big as a Child. There is a Daruma-ji temple at the Mt.Shorinzan in Takasaki City. At that temple, you can buy the talisman as a doll or as an omikuji.
The Takasaki JR station also carries Darumas in every shape and form.... You can even buy an Hello Kitty daruma bento box!

But what do I do with a Daruma doll?

Here comes the fun part! Once you buy your Daruma, you should make a wish and paint the right eye in black (from the painter's perspective). When the wish comes true, paint the other eye. You can display the doll at home, at work or in your business.

But how is a Daruma doll made?

Years ago, I was watching the japanese variety program Muchaburi. On that program, they traveled to Takasaki to visit a Daruma manufacture. That is when I first learn about the doll. I was really impress and wanted to see it for myself. A few months later, I was on my way to Japan and made sure to stop by Takasaki. There I had the chance to have a local artist teach me the painting process. I gave it a try and had horrible results!!!

Here is a little video that shows the fabrication process:

The Daruma Project 2009

 In 2009, I decided with my grade 7-8 class to Make Darumas as a year end project. The idea behind it was that my class did not want to participate in the year end concert (which they found to kiddish). Since the following year, the grade 7 and 8 were moving to a new school, they had decided to make a gift they would leave behind and one they would offer to the principal of the new school.

The gift had to be meaningful, and bring luck to the new establsihement. The end of year concert (which was to take place in the new school) would be the occasion to offer both gift to the 2 principals. The kids had all heard about my trips to Japan and showed a lot of curiosity towards Darumas! We quickly agreed as a class : Daruma would be the special gift!

So 2 months before the end of the school year we started. We could not follow the traditional way of making them (lack of equipment and material) so we decided on using a balloon that we would cover with papier maché. After many layers to give it the proper shape and feature (nose, flat face, heavier base) we coated it with primer. Then we painted the doll with a red paint mix with gloss.

For the face, I told my student they could follow the traditional pattern or they could be creative. Most of them decided to use their creativity. Some kids decided to try the traditional way.

In the end, we were really please with the results! The student decided on 2 dolls and offered them on stage to the principals. The principals were really surprise by this. The students had prepare a powerpoint explaining the concept and asked the principals to make a wish for their respective school. 2 years later, those dolls are still being displayed in the entrance hall of both schools!

The following summer, as I traveled back to Takasaki, I met with the local artist and showed him the picture of my students, hard at work! He was clearly surprise and couldn't stop laughing. He said, we definitively has no skills in Daruma making, but we had motivation and talents!

Here are the direction to reach the temple and the manufacture.

View Larger Map

群馬県高崎市藤塚町124−2, Japan +81 27-323-5223

Takasaki is on the Nagano Shinkansen train line. When you get to the JR station you can either transfer on a local train line to Gunmayawata station or you can take the bus. Your best bet is to ask when you get to the station since both the bus and the train run on very different schedule and at any given time, you must take one or the other.

From the temple, you can easily walk to the Daruma factory. If you want more detailed information, feel free to contact me!

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