Keeping One Eye Open: Daruma and the Art of the Japanese Wish

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Wishes can be precarious things.

A good wish should come straight from the heart, free of calculation, prudence and caution.

Overthink a wish and you risk wishing for the wrong thing. Since you can’t think your way to your heart’s desire, you might as well forget logic and common sense entirely. The best wishes are based on pure intuition– and maybe even a little madness.

Then there’s the whole issue of your wish actually coming true. Most people don’t contemplate this part, assuming that the wish itself is the answer. But while it’s easy to long for your wish, safely from the sidelines, it’s another thing to actually get what you want. Real can be scary when you realize you now have something to lose.

But even so, I just can’t imagine living in a world with no wishes. Wishes have always been my spark, and have been all the better when they don’t turn out as I expect.

mt fuji japan view

At Mount Fuji, contemplating all my upcoming wishes and thinking of the words of writer George Eliot “It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.”

The Best Wishes are from Japan

As you might have guessed, I take my wishes seriously. Forget magic wands and fairy dust, those storybook wishes aren’t even contenders. For my wishes, I turn to ancient cultures, where wishes are steeped in centuries-old traditions and treated with respect and honor. To me, no culture does wishes better than Japan.


On my first visit to Japan, I became intrigued by the fascinating history behind the culture’s luck and wish rituals. On my recent return visit, I made it my mission to learn more about these ancient traditions– and for fun, to test drive them all. In upcoming posts, I’ll circle trees, toss stones and leave personal inscriptions at temples, all in my quest for wishes.

Japanese Daruma Dolls and One-Eyed Wishes

But I wanted to start with a Japanese wish tradition that not only let me bring my wishes home with me, but also gave me the opportunity to share them with others–  the Japanese Daruma doll.

Japanese Darumas are hand-painted, papier-mache dolls based on the 6th Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen in Japan. Darumas are easily recognizable by their bright red color and roly-poly shape.

But what’s really striking about Darumas are their blank, vacant eyes. While they may look soulless at first, that’s by design. The Daruma is blind to the world until the owner allows him to see. You fill in one eye while making a wish, and promise Daruma you will fill in the other eye when your wish is fulfilled. Only then will Daruma have both eyes open.


Daruma’s rounded shape and weighted bottom are perfectly designed to represent perseverance. Just try and knock the Daruma over and he will spring right back up again.

I didn’t know anything about Daruma dolls before my visit to Japan. But when visiting the Buddhist temple in Kawasaki, just outside of Tokyo, it was impossible to miss these lucky charms. As I strolled down the shopping streets leading up to the temple, I saw not one but several shops, each with their shelves lined top to bottom with nothing but this striking red doll.

daruma doll shop japan souvenir

Daruma dolls in Kawasaki, Japan. Pretty much impossible to miss.


This lovely shop owner didn’t speak English, but fortunately had English pamphlets handy explaining the Daruma luck tradition.

After learning about the Daruma luck tradition at the Kawasaki shops, I loaded up on the dolls, both for myself and as gifts. They had a great back story, were lightweight, and despite their cold stare were even kind of cute.

Back home, it was time to open one of my Daruma’s eyes and make my own wish.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Daruma Wish

When you only have one wish to make and it involves indelible paint or ink, you don’t want to mess it up. So after careful googling research I came up with this detailed guide for my readers.

Think of a Wish

See above for tips. My wish came to me spontaneously, and I didn’t second guess it.

Pick the correct (left) eye of the Daruma

You’d think something like which eye to paint would be a simple, uncontested fact. But Google found otherwise. Based on the pamphlet I got with the doll and my own attempts to weigh the reliability of various conflicting websites, I decided that Daruma’s left eye should be filled in first.

Drink Sake

Technically, Sake was not mentioned in my extensive research. But neither was it contraindicated, so why not make an evening of it.

Focus on your Wish While Filling in Eye

Then came the actual filling in the eye. My research suggested focusing on the wish while painting the eye. I’m not sure what “focusing” means, I chose to silently repeat my wish to myself several times over and hoped this met the requirement.


The big moment arrives as we finally fill in our Daruma eyes.

Place One-Eyed Daruma on Altar

Yes, the instructions I found actually used the word altar. Since I didn’t have an altar in my Manhattan shoebox of an apartment, I improvised and placed him on top of a dresser (a high shelf will also do). The key is to keep Daruma visible so he will remind you of your wish (and presumably, put some effort into making it happen). My own Daruma has left his “altar” for a couple of excursions with me to Central Park, where he served as my inspiration for writing this post.

And Finally, When the Wish Comes True, Fill in the Other Eye

Watch this space for updates.


Have you every wished on a Daruma doll? Share your experiences below!

Disclosure: my trip to the Kanto region of Japan was part of a press trip hosted by JTB, but all of my wishes are my own.

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3 Responses to Keeping One Eye Open: Daruma and the Art of the Japanese Wish

  1. Shepard C Willner 11/14/2016 at 5:16 pm #

    I’m not sure whether or if I’m ever going to visit Japan, but if there’s a way to buy a Daruma doll here in the States, I’d buy one. Regarding wishes, there’s a variant called a lifetime wish, that somebody can ask for. According to James Clavel’s novel, Shogun, a lifetime wish is one that is wished for by one spouse and granted by the other spouse, and can’t be spoken about again in their lifetime, hence the name. But there’s no mention of the Daruma doll in the novel nor is there any mention of who founded Zen Buddhism in Japan. Now I know: it’s this guy, Daruma.

  2. Matt 01/13/2021 at 10:23 pm #

    I loved your article. I always wanted to visit Japan. I am very spiritual, inquisitive and just got enrolled in a course for personal growth and mastery. The course topic starts with a picture of a doll titles Dharuma. I wanted to know what Dharuma meant and as I was searching I came across your article. Loved it and now I know what Dharuma means. I enjoyed your article. Thank you. Wishing with one of my closed that you get to visit Japan again 😉

    • Kristin Francis 04/15/2021 at 8:51 pm #

      Hi Matt, thanks for taking the time to comment and share how you got here 🙂 I still have my Daruma doll even after the wish came true– with both eyes now filled in.

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