Daruma Doll Tattoos

Daruma Doll Tattoos

These little red egg tattoos are increasing in popularity in tattoo culture. Their bold colours and stylizations have made them art pieces. However, they are so much more than just their looks, their deep symbolism can make a Daruma doll tattoo an outer reflection of who you are on the inside.

Daruma doll tattoo meaningSource: Wikipedia

What are Daruma dolls?

They?re red, hollow, round traditional Japanese dolls that were modelled after the Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma and they now frequently inspire Asian-style tattoos all over the world.

The dolls are symbols of good luck, are a popular gift of encouragement, and have been commercialized by many Buddhist temples as a tool for goal setting (more on this later).

Who was Bodhidharma?

Bodhidharma was a monk alive during the ~5th/6th Century AD and credited with the transmission of Zen Buddhism to China.

Side note: Zen was derived from the Japanese pronunciation of China?s pronunciation, ?chan?. It?s a school of Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty (China?s Golden Age), then known as the Chan school of Buddhism, and thus, developed distinctly as a school of Chinese Buddhism. It emphasizes rigorous self-control, practicing meditation, insight into the true nature of things, personal expression of such insight throughout daily life and to do so, especially, for the benefit of others. It is a school that puts more emphasis on spiritual practice rather than the knowledge of texts.

Bodhidharma Daruma Tattoo MeaningSource: Buddha Weekly

He?s been depicted as a bearded man with red robes however, his history, along with his looks, are quite muddled with mystery. The accounts of his life are often mixed with fantastical stories which makes his story rather difficult to understand thus, it makes sense the doll?s design varies quite a bit depending on the region that you find them in.

His story starts on his pilgrimage from the West (we?re not exactly sure where, it?s just west of China) on which, he stops in a cave to meditate, becoming a wall-gazer. This phrase has the exact meaning you think it does; he stayed in that cave with his eyes on the wall, meditating for the next nine years without break except once at the seven-year mark. He became so infuriated with himself, he slashed his eyes out of their sockets. The pieces of which fell to the ground and sprouted green tea leaves, which is one of the legends behind Buddhist monks? and many Asian peoples? beliefs for drinking green tea to stay awake.

On top of his eyes? mutilation, his arms and legs were also lost, potentially due to his immobility over nine years.

Art, folklore, and the doll will exclusively display these characteristics of Bodhidharma. This is what makes the Daruma doll so meaningful, because every aspect derives so much symbolism in its design.

Design of the Doll

Every aspect of the Daruma is symbolic of something, bringing deep meaning into the small red doll. Bodhidharma is engrained into each aspect of its design.

Daruma Doll Tattoo DesignSource: @ben_inkognito from Instagram


The shape of the doll is round with no arms or legs which is a reminder of the legend, where Bodhidharma lost his limbs on his quest to reach enlightenment through meditation and self-sacrifice.

It was usually made out of paper-mache, hollow, and weighed down in the centre with a heavy weight so it would always sit upright no matter how many times it would be pushed down. This symbolized the popular Japanese saying, ?Nanakorobi yaoki? ? fall down seven times, get up eight and even categorized the doll as an okigari toy; one that always arises again.


The colour of the doll varies and there?s not much consensus on modern-day colours however, the most common colour-style chosen for the doll is red. It is presumed to have originated from the priest?s robes but no one really knows. In Asia, red is a common colour symbolizing good luck and good fortune.

Another myth surrounding the colour is red?s relationship to smallpox during the Edo period in Japan. With outbreaks of measles and smallpox, the Japanese would stretch out ropes around the home with red paper strips, drape the child in red robes, and place the doll on altars they made. It was believed that the red would pacify the god, and the okigari idea (falling down, and getting back up) would encourage the patient to recover quickly.

Essentially, the most common colour you?ll see a Daruma doll in and a Daruma doll tattoo in, is red for good luck.

Daruma doll tattoo designSource: @suntattooer from Instagram

The eyes!

The eyes hold a deep meaning for the use of the doll and the reason that people will tattoo the Daruma dolls on themselves in the way they do! They are, arguably, the most notable feature of the doll.

Daruma dolls are sold with large, blank, white circles where the eyes should be. It is believed that this is related to Bodhidharma slashing is eyeballs out during his 9-year meditation.

Another, more popular and less gruesome theory is that the empty eyeballs derive from the idea that those in the past wanted the god residing in the doll to help them. If the god helped the owner of the doll achieve their goals, the owner would give the god their eyesight as thanks for helping them succeed in their endeavours, by painting in the second pupil.

The recipient of the doll will will in one eye upon setting . goal, and the other upon fulfilling the said goal. This is how the dolls are used as a means to keep track of goals, big tasks, and motivate the owners to achieve because they are always reminded of what they?re working towards when they see their one-eyed doll.

Facial hair

Even the facial hair has symbolic meaning! It represents two animals that are well-known in Asian culture who are known to be symbols of longevity: the tortoise and the crane.

The eyebrows mimic the shape of the crane while the cheek hair takes after the shell of the tortoise. It is designed to match the Japanese proverb, ?the crane lives 1,000 years, the tortoise 10,000?, adding further meaning to the doll?s symbolism of good luck.

Image for postSource: @ichitattoo_tokyo from Instagram. Word: ? (blessings/luck)


Yes, the facial hair, colour, shape, and history associate good luck with this meaningful doll, but nothing makes is more obvious that the literal writing on the doll?s chest! Luck is commonly written, but other words such as fortune, perseverance, and different vocabulary in this realm are chosen as a reflection of the reason that the doll was acquired or gifted. Individuals will sometimes even write the goal itself on the doll to inform the god in a more official manner.

Lastly, size does matter

The final aspect that I?m going to bring up today is the size of the doll. The size is often associate with the magnitude of the wish for yourself or for the person to whom you are gifting the doll.

This can also be interpreted in the size of the Daruma doll tattoo that you choose. If the wish is heavy in weight, then the tattoo size can reflect that.

And that?s what makes these red egg tattoos so meaningful.


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