Sunday, January 18, 2009

Daruma Dreaming

Nothing says New Year in Nihon like the ubiquitous daruma doll (the little red guy engulfed in flames above). Mustachioed and a little fierce looking, he is modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism in Japan. These miniature fellows are usually hollow, red for good luck and lacking in appendages and eyes. The owner, while making a wish, colors in one eye (usually the left). If the wish comes true during the year, the other eye is filled in.

Dontoyaki follows closely behind the JItalicapanese New Year, usually around the second week of January. It is a solemn ritual centered around the burning of all the religious New Year's decorations and any other items associated with that year's god, to include charms, tokens and darumas. The Dontoyaki experience is both serenely magical and immensely cathartic. I became completely mesmerized watching the flames consume the remains of the past year.

(For a more detailed description of the event, please see my post from January 2008.)

The purpose of the dontoyaki fire is two-fold. Things are either returned to last year's god in gratitude...or to make humble peace with his disfavor. Burning "unlucky" items, like the daruma pictured above, symbolically destroys the unfavorable and sends it back from whence it came. The soul, released from its negative past, is then ready to fully hope for better times with the new year's god.

Those of you who know me and my family are aware that it has been a rough year, and, for different reasons, will continue to be for some time. But my dear friend Kim gifted me with my very own daruma this new year. I carefully colored in one eye a few weeks ago. Mr. Daruma now rests patiently in my cabinet...waiting for the day he can fully see...for the day my happiness is completely envisioned.

I know this is extremely late--but Happy New Year to you all. I hope that if the events of last year left you blind, that you now may see...great happiness and love throughout the coming year.

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