Daruma dolls are a traditional form of doll
s in Japan
. They are usually red, with a face painted on in white, black and (sometimes) gold. The dolls are nearly spherical with no
distinguishable arms or legs and the head is usually distinguishable only by the face. Size varies greatly, but the most common is about 15cm tall.
Most Daruma dolls (about 80%) are produced in Takasaki
prefecture. The city has an annual output of over 1.5 million dolls.
The dolls represent Bodhidharma, the semi-mythical founder of Zen Buddhism in China (from where it later came to Japan), who is said to have lost the use of his arms and legs while meditating in a cave for nine years.
The dolls are usually sold with their eyes not painted in, as lucky charms for fulfilling a wish or helping to achieve something difficult. You make the wish while painting in the left eye and paint in the right eye when the wish comes true or the challenge is overcome. It has become common for politicians to do this publically in regard to elections. One reason for this superstition may be that the dolls are often made with a weighted bottom, causing them to always turn upright again after being knocked over - a symbol for overcoming problems.
Daruma dolls also feature in many children's games, the most common one being Daruma-san ga koronda, vaguely similar to a game of tag. Perhaps most interesting is that in Japan, snowmen are called yuki-Daruma and likened not to normal people, but to Daruma dolls and therefore built with two globes instead of three. If you see a three-globe snowman in Japan, it's a certain sign that gaijin children live somewhere in the vicinity.