Daruma the Japanese name for Bodhidharma, was the twenty-eighth Indian patriarch of Zen Buddhism. He was born into an Indian royal family in the early sixth century. He traveled to China as a Buddhist missionary and became the first Chinese patriarch of Zen Buddhism. This is one of many anecdotes from his stay in China. Daruma spent nine years meditating in a cave in the Shaolin monastery on Mount Su. He sat so long that his legs lost all strength. When a painter arrived at the monastery to restore the temple paintings, he assumed the meditating Daruma was a weather-beaten statue and proceeded to fix it as well. However, as the painter’s brush touched Daruma’s flesh, he was able to walk again.

Daruma the Japanese name for Bodhidharma

This netsuke represents Daruma as a doll. Most Daruma dolls are more stylized than this one. The Daruma doll is a fortunate sign of an unwavering spirit triumphing over numerous setbacks. It is intended to always right itself when knocked over. This artwork is inspired by Daruma’s admonition Nanakorobi-yaoki, which means “seven times down, eight times up.” If you have a worthwhile aim, continue and you will achieve it.

Another Daruma-doll habit involves keeping a brilliantly colored doll with wide blank eyes prominently displayed in a company or at home. When a prayer is said, one of the pupils is painted in; the second pupil is added until when the request is answered or a specific goal is met. In one variant of this practice, a Japanese businessman paints one of his pupils at the start of a project and the other after its conclusion. Thousands of Daruma dolls are enthusiastically tossed into bonfires during New Year’s celebrations, recognizing previous year’s accomplishments and making room for a new Daruma doll and new aspirations for the coming year.

Tadatoshi a Nagoya netsuke carver who worked only in wood, was active from 1781 until 1800. His early style was quite similar to that of his contemporary Tametaka, but he eventually established his own realistic style. Tadatoshi is well-known for his superb netsuke of humans, masks, and animals. His signature was often in the raised character style.

Daruma Netsuke the Japanese name for Bodhidharma
Tadatoshi a Nagoya netsuke carver who worked only in wood, was active from 1781 until 1800

Many characteristics of traditional Japanese architecture fascinate Westerners. One of the causes is the creative utilization of natural resources. The roof of this lakeside bungalow is supported by natural, unfinished tree trunks. The goal is to blend the building with nature. It is not an indication of poverty, as the same technique is utilized in several Imperial family-owned structures, including the well-known tea house at the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto.

The roof is made of natural thatch, which has been employed in nearly every nation with sufficient resources. A thatch roof often lasts 50 years or more, therefore this is a rather ancient building, as seen by the roof support visible through the thatch. Through the poles that support the roof, we can see the traditional shoji, or panels made of lightweight wood and paper that slide past one another to allow the air from the pond into the home. The traditional interior of a house like this was open and bright because the shoji paper is transparent, letting light into the interior but keeping spectators out.

The ojime is carved from coral, and the netsuke itself demonstrates the lacquerer’s expertise. Jokasai, an exceptional lacquerer, received a huge order for inro and kogo from the Tokugawa family in 1682. To complete the order, he and Koami Nagafusa joined forces, and all of their students worked tirelessly to assist finish the task. From the early fourteenth to the twentieth century, the Koami family served as court lacquerers. Followers of Jokasai worked for the shogunate until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.