Okiagari-koboshi from Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima

Okiagari-koboshi or Okiagari-kobōshi (起き上がり小法師?, getting-up little priest) is a Japanese traditional doll. The toy is made from papier-mâché and is designed so that its weight causes it to return to an upright position if it is knocked over.[1] Okiagari-koboshi is considered a good-luck charm and a symbol of perseverance and resilience.[2]



The makers of the earliest okiagari-koboshi likely modeled them after a Chinese toy called Budaoweng (不倒翁; not-falling-down old man) that is similarly weighted. Okiagari-koboshi has long been popular among Japanese children. It is mentioned in a 14th-century play called Manju-Kui,[3] and folklorist Lafcadio Hearn recorded a lullaby from Matsue in Izumo Province in the early 20th century that lists the doll as a gift for a young child:

Nenneko, nenneko nenneko ya!
Kono ko nashite naku-yara?
O-chichi ga taranuka? — o-mama ga taranuka?
Ima ni ototsan no ōtoto no o-kaeri ni
Ame ya, o-kwashi ya, hii-hii ya,
Gara-gara, nagureba fuito tatsu
Okiagarikoboshi! —
Neneko, neneko, nenneko ya!

Translated, it says:

Sleep, sleep, sleep, little one!
Why does the child continue to cry?
Is the milk deficient? — is the rice deficient?
Presently when father returns from the great Lord's palace,
Ame will be given to you, and also cake, and a hii-hii likewise,
And a rattle as well, and an okiagarikoboshi
That will stand up immediately after being thrown down.[4]

Okiagari-koboshi are popular in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture. There, the dolls are sold in red and blue varieties.[5] People buy the dolls during the Tokaichi (Tenth-day Market) held each 10 January.[6] Shoppers typically throw several okiagari-koboshi down at the same time; those that stand back up are supposedly the lucky ones. Tradition mandates the purchase of one okiagari-koboshi for each member of the family plus one extra in the hope that the family will grow over the coming year.[5]

Daruma dolls

Daruma doll of the okiagari-koboshi type

One kind of Daruma doll works on the same principle as okiagari-koboshi and is sometimes referred to by that name; whenever it is thrown down, it rights itself.[7] This depiction of the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma likely arose in connection with a legend that says that he once meditated for nine years, which caused his legs to either atrophy or fall off.[8] A 17th-century children's song shows that the okiagari-koboshi Daruma dolls of the time were almost identical to their modern equivalents:

Hi ni! fu ni!
Fundan Daruma ga
Akai zukin kaburi sunmaita!

Once! twice!
Ever the red-hooded Daruma
Heedlessly sits up again![9]


  1. ^ Hearn, 289.
  2. ^ McFarland, 169.
  3. ^ Hearn, 288.
  4. ^ Hearn, 217–8.
  5. ^ a b Lee.
  6. ^ Tokaichi.
  7. ^ Hearn 286, 288.
  8. ^ Hearn, 286 and 288 says they fell off, but McFarland, 169, says they atrophied.
  9. ^ Hearn, 288–9.


  • Hearn, Lafcadio (1901). A Japanese Miscellany. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, and Company.
  • Lee, Sherwood. "Historical asset: Kitakata". Japan National Tourist Organization. Accessed 20 January 2007.
  • McFarland, H. Neill (1986). "Feminine Motifs in Bodhidharma Symbology in Japan". Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2.
  • "Tokaichi (Tenth Day Market)". Aizu Wakamatsu City. Accessed 20 January 2007.

See also

  • Roly-poly toy

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