Responding to the challenge of the Corona virus takes efforts both big and small, and sometimes it’s comforting to look into the everyday ways that people are handling the crisis. We all need a little luck in these trying times, and Japan has no end of talismans, omamori amulets and prayer slips on offer.
One of the most iconic and time-honoured talismans that you might see around the homes and shops of Japan is the Daruma. Small, round, and normally painted in a resplendent shade of red, Daruma depict a mustachioed face with bushy eyebrows and either blank or intensely staring eyes. Sometimes they are kept around for general good luck, but Daruma can also grant wishes. Paint on the first eye while making the wish, and then the second only once your wish has been fulfilled.
The real Daruma was a based on Bodhidharma, a buddhist monk who famously meditated for so long that his arms and legs fell off and he went blind. This is why Daruma dolls have their adorable round shape and their blank eyes. More gruesome than you thought, right?
As part of a recently launched exhibition, Nagoya based ‘Gold Shop Matsuzukaya’ has unveiled a particularly impressive golden daruma, which they have tasked with bringing a swift end to the coronavirus. Despite being presented in the company of ornate swords, small statues, extravagant tea sets, and around 1000 other items of golden craftwork, this defender of Japan’s national health has seized the centre stage.
In some ways a faithfully traditional creation, this giant of a daruma differs in two key areas. Towering above more typical versions, the shining daruma stands at a height of 1.8 metres, and has also been covered with gold leaf, layered on in 1700 individual sheets. Will the good luck bestowed by the Daruma be increased by the addition of that much gold? Absolutely, and the ‘Japan, keep going!’ (がんばれ、にほん) headband which the talisman is now wearing can’t hurt chances either.
Gold Shop Matsuzukaya: sgc-gold.co.jp/exhibition/
Matsuzukaya’s exhibition will only be running to the end of the month, closing up on the 28th of June. There is however, another unique Daruma which has taken up the challenge of pushing back the virus, albeit with a much lower price tag attached. Specialist store Imai Daruma in Gunma have started modelling their products after the mythical amabie, a mermaid creature with three legs and a birdlike face, which looks completely bizarre and not at all reassuring.
Legend says that the act of drawing the Amabie and showing it to a sick person will help them make a rapid recovery. This explains why pictures have been suddenly popping up across Japan, everywhere from Izakaya to barber shops. Making the change to a daruma is a logical step, but what is most impressive about the Imai Daruma shop’s amabie is just how adorable they are. Somehow the weird fish bird has been transformed into a sweet, handmade talisman ready to protect you and keep you feeling your best.
Imai Daruma: imai.shop-pro.jp
While I don’t think you’ll be able to pick up the Gold Leaf Daruma (either financially or physically) the Amabie Daruma only costs 1,650円 (£12.50). I’m not sure whether these champions of vitality will share the fate of most Daruma dolls and be burnt to ashes at a Daruma Kuyō ceremony at the end of the year, but I have a suspicion that the Gold Leaf Daruma might be spared.