Takasaki Daruma

City of Takasaki

Takasaki - The Largest Producer of Daruma Dolls in Japan

Takasaki Daruma
The face of the Daruma is decorated by two auspicious animals. The thick eyebrows are drawn in the shape of cranes and the beard as turtles. One of the Daruma’s special features is the gold writing down both sides of the face that states the owner’s wish for prosperity in business, safety in the household, or achieving a certain goal. The Daruma is often also called the engi (auspicious) or fuku (lucky) Daruma.

Facing the Daruma, first the right eye is colored in with black ink while making a wish. After one year has passed without incident and the owner’s wish has been fulfilled, the other eye is also colored in.

Facing the Daruma, first the right eye is colored in with black ink while making a wish. After one year has passed without incident and the owner’s wish has been fulfilled, the other eye is also colored in.

Facing the Daruma, first the right eye is colored in with black ink while making a wish. After one year has passed without incident and the owner’s wish has been fulfilled, the other eye is also colored in.

In order for good luck to be drawn to and stored inside it, the Daruma’s torso is adorned with the characters fuku-iri (bringing luck). This space can also be decorated with the owner’s name or a store name.

Molding the Daruma
Originally, Daruma dolls were made by sticking layers of washi Japanese paper onto a wooden mold, but these days the process is done by machine. Production is more efficient now, but there are still many steps involved in the manufacturing process.

A mold is dipped in papier-mâché liquid and a pump sucks out the air, leaving the Daruma shape inside of the mold.

Using this molding technique, many Daruma of exactly the same size and shape can be produced. Mold sizes vary, and the dolls come in sizes from small to very large.

This picture shows Daruma being made using a traditional wooden mold whereby the papier-mâché is applied over the wet surface of the mold.

The Daruma shapes are undercoated with a white paint made of crushed shell and then left to dry well.

The Daruma’s body is made of paper but its base is weighted with clay. By making the base heavy, it won’t tip over.

Painting the Daruma
The main color of a Takasaki Daruma is red. Red is traditionally thought to ward off evil spirits.

Once the Daruma’s undercoat is dry, it is painted red all over, either by spray gun or by submersion in a tank of red paint.

The red Daruma is once again left to dry well in the open air.

Next, the Daruma’s face is painted white and the outline of its eyes are drawn in.

Painting the Daruma’s Face
A variety of brushes are used depending on the thickness of the line needed to depict certain facial features and the size of the Daruma itself.

There are around 70 master craftsmen making Daruma in Takasaki. The Daruma’s face is painted by hand by the craftsman at local ateliers using a brush, so each one is subtly different. If you look closely, you’ll notice the differences in the thickness of the eyebrows and beard or the color of the cheeks. Customers usually buy a Daruma every year from the atelier whose design they favor the most.

Daruma ateliers have their busiest period at the end of the year, when they are busy making Daruma to sell at Daruma markets held all over Japan early in the new year. The whole family helps out.

Watch a Daruma’s face being painted

Daruma were traditionally made using a wooden mold like those in the picture. The size and facial shape of each is subtly different.

In the new year, a ritual is held in which a new Daruma’s eye is colored in while wishing for fortune. At Takasaki City Hall, this ritual is held on the first day back at work in the new year.

The Daruma is based on the figure of the Bodhidharma from India. He is considered the founder of Zen Buddhism and credited for spreading Buddhist teachings in China.
More about Daruma
Aside from the bright red lucky Daruma, there are also Daruma painted in various other colors, designed like animals from the Chinese zodiac or that are specially created for events.

A Daruma designed for the highly-acclaimed Gunma Symphony Orchestra

Daruma dolls designed for JR Eastern Japan, commemorating their D51 and C61 steam locomotives, and the Joshin Dentetsu’s electric locomotive

Daruma dolls decorated with flowers like this one are sure to brighten any celebration

Small Daruma dolls like these make perfect souvenirs

Gunma Daruma Doll Manufacturers' Cooperative Union holds an annual Daruma exhibition displaying many kinds of Takasaki Daruma as well as ones from all over Japan.

Daruma ateliers offer visitors the chance to try painting the face of their very own Daruma. This experience is gaining popularity among foreign visitors.

Elementary school children in Takasaki make their own original Daruma by decorating a white doll in their own color and design.

Takasaki has a large number of pasta restaurants and the locals also eat a lot of pasta, so it’s appropriate that the city holds an event called King of Pasta, a competition to decide the best pasta restaurant of the year. The winning restaurant is presented with a Daruma decorated in the colors of the Italian flag.

Daruma is one of the features of Takasaki Festival held in summer each year, carried around the crowds alongside the other traditional portable shrines and floats.

The stick held by the leader of the portable shrine-carrying group is topped by a large Daruma.

A relief near near JR Takasaki Station featuring Daruma

Daruma-making in the Past
Daruma production became popular among farmers who saw it as a way to supplement their income during the winter months

Scenes depicting Daruma-making in the 1930s

An old document and print from 1829 tell of the sale of Daruma dolls at a new year’s market in the Tamachi area of Takasaki. These provide valuable proof that Daruma markets took place in the center of Takasaki around 200 years ago. Look closely at the area to the left of center in this picture.

Takasaki Daruma Market
The main street is closed to traffic while the city comes alive with crowds of people flocking to the Takasaki Daruma Market, held on the 1st and 2nd of January.

A massive Daruma set up inside Takasaki Station to promote the Daruma Market

An even bigger Daruma measuring 2.8 meters in height welcomed crowds to the Daruma Market held along the street running in front of Takasaki Station

This golden Daruma was also displayed

Visitors to the Daruma Market write their various wishes all over the golden Daruma

One of the highlights of the Market – being able to negotiate a better price for your favorite Daruma doll

Watch scenes from the Daruma Market

Old Daruma are collected at the Market and set alight at a ritual burning, after having been blessed by a Buddhist monk. The golden Daruma displayed at the Takasaki Daruma Market looks on.

Daruma dolls with both eyes painted in have fulfilled the wishes of their owners, thereby having served their purpose

Watch the ritual burning of Daruma

City of Takasaki
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