Japan election candidates court luck with dolls

TOKYO Fri Aug 21, 2009 9:44am BST

A Japanese craftsman adds the final touches to a daruma doll in Takasaki. REUTERS/file

A Japanese craftsman adds the final touches to a daruma doll in Takasaki.

Credit: Reuters/file

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Many Japanese politicians running in this month's election are leaving nothing to chance and snapping up traditional lucky charms to make their wishes of victory come true.

Japan holds a general election on August 30, and sales of "daruma" dolls, which are usually bright red and shaped like a human head, have risen as candidates and their supporters seek a little help ahead of the polls.

"Candidates up for election paint in one eye, and then if they win, paint in the other. This has become a kind of tradition," explained Junichi Nakada, owner of a small daruma making factory in Takasaki City, 100 km (60 miles) north of Tokyo, which is seeing brisk business due the poll.

The dolls represent the Indian priest Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism in China, who is said to have lost the used of his arms and legs after spending nine years meditating in a cave.

Daruma dolls, which Japanese use to seek luck for everything from passing exams to finding love, were first introduced to election campaigns in the 1930s, Japanese media say.

Darumas that have done their work are left at special temples, where they are blessed and then burned. Some that were used by senior politicians, however, are kept in museums.

Seiishi Hirose, a monk at the famed Daruma Temple in Takasaki, said the dolls help politicians gather supporters' wishes, which in turn improves their chances at the ballot box.

"Candidates will put it in their political office, then everyone makes dedication to the daruma," Hirose said.

This year its the main ruling party that may be seeking a bit more daruma magic than usual: Japan's opposition Democratic Party looks headed for victory, which could end more than five decades of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) currently led by Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

(Reporting by Reuters TV, editing by Miral Fahmy and Linda Sieg)

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