1/02/2006

J-List side blog: Japanese Daruma, the seasonal nature of Japan,

One of the coolest images of Japan, to me, are the Daruma, the unique red, roundish dolls that are quite visible in Japan around this time of year. A Daruma is a representation of Bodhidharma, a historical figure from India who founded Zen Buddhism and what would become Kung Fu, and who attained his unique shape by fasting and meditating for so long that his arms and legs disappeared -- although I just know that if I were to ask my Japanese wife about this she'd throw up her hands and tell me she has no idea what I'm talking about. Like Japan's Lucky Cat, which beckons good fortune (especially in business or money) into your home, a Daruma is an object that promises to bring you good luck. The doll originally comes with no eyes drawn in, and when you make a wish for the New Year, you blacken one of the eyes with ink. If your wish comes true during the year, you color the other eye, and a Daruma displayed in a home or business with both eyes colored in is a statement of having attained success. While the Daruma is ostensibly a Buddhist icon, it's become associated with Shinto rites such as New Year's Day, and has kind of "jumped" from one Japanese tradition to the other. Every city in Japan stakes out a "meibutsu" or "famous thing," some object or food that it is famous for, and Takasaki, our neighboring city, just happens to be famous for these beautiful Daruma Dolls. Their official train station bento is Daruma Bento, too, which is well-known throughout Japan.

One of the first things I learned about Japan after going there in 1991 was that it was a very season-focused country, with specific customs and activities for each time of year. Want to buy a warm coat? Buy it in the winter months, since no store will stock them at any other time of year. How about a swimsuit? They're not available outside of May-August for love or money. Fireworks are popular in high summer, but if you wanted to get them at another time of year (for example, to throw your own Guy Fawkes Day bash), you're out of luck.

J-List side blog: Japanese Daruma, the seasonal nature of Japan, and a sad day for Japan's Adult Video World

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