Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Darumas 達磨

As many readers may know, traditional kokeshi makers often make Daruma heads. Like kokeshis, there is an infinite variety of Daruma designs, shapes and sizes. Naoko picked up two splendid pieces while in Japan, both by a relatively new craftsman named Kan'ichi-san from Sendai City whose last name we do not know. We do know that he is the student of Mr. Sato Masahiro, and in fact we met him at Mr. Sato's workshop a few years ago when he was probably still in the early stages of his training. When I track down his family name I'll update this blog.
The first piece I would like to discuss is a cylindrical Daruma with a red nose, slightly crossed eyes, and a faint smile. The real Buddhist monk Bodhidharma ("Daruma" in Japan), founder of Zen Buddhism, is normally depicted wearing a red cape and sporting a bushy beard. In this case Kan'ichi-san has heavily stylized the beard by using a thick black line. Overall this is very appealing, and like a kokeshi that expresses so much with one or two pieces of lathed wood and painted lines, the effect here is similar. The size is about three inches high.
The bottom of the Daruma with Kan'ichi's signature.
The second Daruma by Kan'ichi is this little fellow below, and the effect is completely different than the one above. It's quite tiny -- about one inch -- and the face is extremely expressive. For this piece Kan'ichi made the face less stylistic and more realistic, and the grumpy appearance is simple and appealing. Remember that the craftsman is painting onto a curved wooden surface using a fine brush, which must be tricky.

The bottom of the smaller Daruma. Kan'ichi-san wrote just "Ka" rather than his whole name.
Below are the two Darumas together so you can compare not just the size difference, but also Kan'ichi-san's approach to doing the faces, beards, eyebrows, noses and mustaches.  
As noted above, there is a huge variety of Daruma styles in Japan, not just among those created by kokeshi makers but also among the traditional paper-mache Darumas that are so famous. Kan'ichi-san's work is a nice addition to that tradition.


  1. I wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your posts. You are one of the few folks out there who have shared their knowledge (in English) about current kokeshi artists, and I really appreciate it. I am looking forward to returning to Japan and seeking out some of the places you have visited in the past. Thank you!

    1. Kaona,
      Thank you kindly for your nice message, and I hope you get to visit some kokeshi makers when you get back to Japan.