Face Painting

Posted by on Oct 15, 2011 in Gunma, Travel Volunteer Journey | 3 Comments
Face Painting

As with most ancient religious figures, there is some conjecture about the true history of Daruma, a devout monk whose practise of extreme mediation gave rise to Zen Buddhism. One colourful tale that says once, during a nine session of staring at a wall, he once fell asleep. On waking, he was so disgusted with himself that he cut off his eyelids top stop it happening again. When the fleshy flaps hit the ground, the first tea plant sprouted. This explains why you get that slightly meaty taste in tea sometimes…
Another tale says that, during the same nine-year session, Daruma’s legs rotted away and dropped off. Despite that, the lidless, legless legend lived until the ripe old age of 130.

Whether any of it actually happened is incidental: the point is that Daruma was a determined dude. He could fail multiple times, but would never give up. All of which has now been surmised into the neat little phrase: “Seven times down, eight times up.” That and dolls, lots and lots of dolls.
These tubby little creatures can be knocked down again and again, and they’ll always return to their feet/stumps. Not only that, but the painting of the dolls has, for the last few hundred years, helped to bring good luck – especially here in Takasaki in the heart of Gunma prefecture.

The dolls are sold with blank faces onto which believers are invited to paint in facial hair. There is a traditional style, but essentially it’s an empty canvas to do as you please. As time has gone by, and the commercial popularity has increased, so the “rules” have declined – now, as well as the traditional red, the figures can be any colour at all. It makes the whole process a lot more fun, especially at Daimonya, an enormous shop where you can buy a Daruma in any shade – or even with the Japanese national football team’s jersey, if you like.

What is more important, however, is the painting of the eyes. The doll’s owner should first only do the right eye, then make a wish. The second eye should only be painted if the wish comes true.

If that happens, the Daruma should be displayed as a sign of success, happiness, and triumph over adversity – apparently some people do like a show-off after all.

Here’s how the painting went when Katy tried it today:

Daruma Painting in Gunma from Travel Volunteer on Vimeo.


だるまの歴史にはいくつもの説がある・・・達磨大師が壁に向かって9年の座禅修行を行った際、ついうとうととしてしまった事があった。その事が許せなかった達磨大師は自分の瞼を切り、二度と同じ過ちを繰り返さないようにした。その切り取られた瞼が落ちた場所にお茶畑ができた。お茶が風味豊かなのはこのせいだと言われている。 また別の説では、達磨大師が同じく9年の修行中に手足が腐ってもげてしまった。手足も瞼もないこの伝説の大師は130歳まで生きたと言われている。



だるま絵付けで最も重要な事、それは目を一つしか描かないということだ。目を一つ入れた状態で願い事をし、願がなかった時点でもう一つの目を入れる。 そしてその願いを叶えてくれただるまは成功や幸運の象徴として飾られるのだ。



  1. Kazuaki Okada
    October 16, 2011

    Hi,Katy. Your Daruma is cute. Did you make a wish?I sincerely hope the left eye will also be painted by the end of your journey. I am traveling with both of you on the blog. I am really greatful to you for showing me a lot of nice things and places which I have never seen or visited in my life.

    • Katy & Jamie
      October 19, 2011

      Thank you Mr.Okada! Yes, I made my wish… it’s for you and your wife to come to Scotland ;) So you can paint the right eye yourself when you arrive! Keep traveling along with us, it’s a real pleasure to show you your country and maybe give you some ideas for future holidays. Say hello to Mrs. Okada from us!

  2. Tee
    October 16, 2011

    Very interesting story, educational and enriching. Good job!

    Cheers, Tee

    Tee is Senior Editor of digital magazine http://www.CostaRicaCLOSEUP.com about Costa Rica