Except for the uninitiated, most everyone in Japan will know that daruma is normally a papier maché good luck doll, often about the size of an orange, and which represents what I can only describe as a rotund, harsh-looking bearded man painted in red. Many Japanese buy one to document the wish for success in their endeavors.
The doll normally comes with both eyes blank, and the new owner fills in the iris of the left eye while forming a wish they hope will come true. If — or rather when — it does, it’s tradition to fill in the other as well.
So how does this fit with our story? In the town of Hiratsuka, a remarkably inconvenient place to reach in Kanagawa Prefecture, there is a Daruma Store called “Arai Darumaya.”
From the nearest train stop, Hiratsuka station, you can’t miss it. There is a huge daruma the size of a small elephant perched outside the black sliding doors of a building, which might otherwise look like somebody’s house.
In fact, when our reporter visited the location in 2018, she nearly walked into the owner’s kitchen while trying to find the entrance.
What is interesting is that Arai Darumaya is not your regular daruma store. To start with, it’s quite rare to have shops selling only darumas. It is understandably quite a niche product, despite its popularity. With 150 years of history, though, this shop has managed to keep the family tradition going.
However, it did find new and greater ways of differentiating itself. Together with sales of the classic red darumas in all shapes and sizes, the shop has managed to find its niche in eto darumas. Eto is the zodiac calendar, which originally, it is often said, came from China. But, in fact, the Japanese version is slightly different from its Chinese counterpart.
Arai Darumaya has been following the Japanese zodiac calendar and producing adorable handmade animal darumas each year for 16 years now.
In 2019, it was the super-kitsch golden pig, while 2020 will be the year of the mouse, and the shop has been in its peak producing season for mouse darumas since late November.
The adorable mouse darumas are white, with the round ears carefully decorated in gold. The pink nose and cheeks make even a rodent seem cute. And the funny thing is that, because all the decorations are made by hand, each mouse is slightly different from the other.
Seikan Arai, 64 years old and the fourth-generation owner of the shop, explained his rationale for the 2020’s wooden mouse doll, all with an eye on the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics: “With the Olympics taking place next year, Japan will be in the spotlight. I created a design with my hope that everyone will have a happy year ahead.”
If you happen to be in Hiratsuka, make sure you stop by. One daruma is ¥3,000 JPY (about $27.5 USD).
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(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)
Author: JAPAN Forward