In Japanese culture, there are many objects and symbols that have a great deal of meaning. There is an allure to this mysterious history which makes Japanese culture not only popular in Japan but also all over the world. The way of the samurai or the peacefulness of the cherry blossom are fascinating topics. In addition, the lore of dragons, snakes and fish all work their way into the culture of Japan. Another popular symbol is the Daruma Doll (also known as the Dharma doll).
The Daruma doll is an interesting little doll that happens to be a popular subject in tattooing as well. Most think of the dragons and koi fish when they think of Japanese tattooing but the Daruma doll is a topic of Japanese culture that is also very symbolic and looks great in the form of a tattoo. The dolls are generally made of papier-mâché and have a rounded shape with weight at the bottom so they always come back to an upright position. Many households have the Daruma doll and we will talk about why. Most of the focus will be on the symbolism.
In this post we are going to talk about the Daruma doll tattoo and what it symbolizes. When a person gets this tattoo, they are getting it because it means something to them and we are going to dive into that meaning so you get a better understanding of the history and symbolism behind this tattoo. We will also talk about some of the different ways that people get this tattoo so you get a really solid foundation in understanding this iconic symbol.
About the Daruma Doll
The Daruma, or Dharma, doll is a traditional Japanese doll that has served as a good luck charm and a motivational tool since the middle of the 18th century. In regular form, these dolls are round, hollow and made of papier-mâché but have also been made of a variety of materials including ceramic and glass. They come in a variety of bright colors, but the most popular Daruma dolls are red to mimic.
The face in the Daruma doll is modeled after a famous Buddhist named Bodhidharma, who was known throughout China and Japan during the 5th century. Bodhidharma means “cosmic awakening” in Sanskrit and is a man who personifies the state of Enlightenment on Earth and serves as a representation of the Buddha and his teachings. The Bodhidharma was also known in China as the creator of Chan Buddhism while in Japan he is the founder of Zen Buddhism.
Unlike most famous monks from that period, Bodhidharma was known for his more extreme practices such as spending an entire decade with his eyes kept wide open. This is reflected in the look of the doll and becomes a representation of watchfulness and awareness. It is common for the initial Daruma doll tattoo to only have one eye painted with an iris, or for it to have two blank, white eyes. These dolls are created in some regions as toys but in others, the dolls are made to contain a wish made by the owner. Traditionally an iris (or pupil) is later painted onto the blank spaces when a wish has been fulfilled. In this way, the daruma doll is a representation of that wish and a reminder or motivator for the owner to strive towards their goals.
Not only is Bodhidharma famous for his early Buddhist teachings and his eccentricities, he also created Shaolin Kung Fu, which is has been one of the most popular forms of martial arts for centuries. Bodhidharma formed the ancient art when he observed the poor health exhibited by the monks of the Shaolin Monastery. Because of this, the Daruma is also associated with health and discipline. He is a man that many people believe embodied determination and enlightenment which has lead the Daruma doll to represent these characteristics as well.
Most Daruma dolls are red because Bodhidharma supposedly only wore red robes. It is also the color that Japanese people traditionally see as the most energetic and spiritual color in existence. They represent the crane and the tortoise, respectively, which both signify longevity as well as the wisdom of Bodhidharma. The majority of Daruma doll tattoos feature the vivid red color as well as the long, extenuated eyebrows, and mustache. The expression of the face is generally very sober, pensive, and can even been rendered glowering or glaring.
A misconception about Daruma dolls is that they are some kind of wishing well. In truth, they represent willpower, which is why the face on these dolls is one of determination and steadfastness. Rather than granting wishes, the doll is there to serve as a reminder that people are capable of realizing their dreams on their own. The tattoo design is a symbol of determination, strength, and perseverance rather than a good luck charm.
One of the many unique features of the Daruma doll is its weighted bottom. This keeps the doll from falling over and has a symbolic meaning. Buddhists practice incredible persistence and resilience which is personified with the perfect balance that the doll exhibits. Harmony, an important facet of Buddhism, is achieved with balance in life and within the cosmos and is represented by the constant upright posture of the doll.
Daruma Doll Tattoo Variations
The Daruma doll is an excellent tattoo design for those who wish to receive a symbol of constancy and perseverance. Regardless of personal heritage or culture, the Daruma doll serves its recipient well as a motivational symbol. The design can include other Chinese or Japanese iconography to alter the specific intention of the tattoo. Koi fish are often introduced into designs that seek to represent Japanese culture while Chinese characters or symbols are a representation of a Chinese Bodhidharma Daruma doll.
Feminine Daruma Doll Tattoo
Although the original doll is a rough masculine symbol, there are also feminine representations of the Daruma doll called the Princess Daruma or the Lady Daruma. These renderings of the round dolls are painted bright pink to emphasize the femininity and may feature floral patterns. With these designs, the doll is generally painted to resemble a woman rather than the staunch appearance of the usual face.
Daruma Doll in Flames Tattoo
Flames may be depicted engulfing the Daruma doll in some designs to represent the Daruma burning that happens every year. A festival is held at significant Japanese temples ever year, often after the New Year, where the dolls are ritually burned and new ones are purchased. This act is a symbol of gratitude and achievement. Along with two painted eyes, flames can convey that one’s goal or wish has been fulfilled and may be added to tattoo designs later on after the goal has been accomplished.
Daruma Doll and Waves Tattoo
The Daruma doll is already a representation of determination and willpower which means that it fits perfectly with the symbolism of the Japanese wave. The Japanese wave represent ebbs and flows of life. Just like water, we have to ride them out and see where it takes us. The storms may come and they may be intense but if we stay the course, we will make it through. Just like the Daruma doll tattoo, it represents moving forward and keeping your will and determination intact. In addition, to working well together in a symbolic fashion, the Japanese wave or water is used as filler in many cases. These images take up space on the skin but there is generally some room between so the waves work well in this case.
When looking for the right tattoo artist to complete your Daruma doll tattoo, make sure they are well versed in the Japanese style of tattooing. Many will claim they can do it but fortunately for all of us, much of the work by these artists are online. Take the time to look through all the work completed the artists in your area to determine if they do the kind of work you are looking for. Let us know if you need help in deciding what artist to go to.