Thursday, January 2, 2014

Memories of Japan: Making New Year's Resolutions, and Mikka Bōzu

A Japanese Buddhist monk with his
begging bowl.
Today is Thursday, January 2, 2014.

In Japan, making new year's resolutions is a big deal, but the Japanese are not any better at keeping their resolutions than the rest of us.  There are a lot of reasons why people don't keep their resolutions, and if you're interested in my take on the subject, you can check my other blog to see what I wrote.  

 The Japanese have a name for people who can't, don't or won't keep their resolutions.  They are called mikka bōzu (三日坊主), which means "three-day monk,"  or a person who makes a commitment to the monastic life which lasts only three days.   In other words, this expression means a person who make big promises, important commitments, or enthusiastic resolutions, but who never see them through to the end.  This is the person who buys a new diary but never writes in it again after the tenth of January.  This is the guy who spends a thousand dollars on a health club membership and training gear, trains hard for three weeks, then quits.  These are the people who say they'll quit smoking, but sneak a cigarette a few days later, then give up and just buy a whole pack.  This is the gal who joins a weight-loss group and quits after losing only ten pounds.  This is the person who decides to read five books a month, whose schedule suddenly becomes way too crowded for that.  In other words, it doesn't matter when you actually quit.  It could be three days, three weeks, or three months; you are still called a mikka bōzu.

Anyone who has never done something like this is free to leave the room now...  OK, since we're all still here, I'll continue.

I've mentioned daruma dolls ( (達磨 ) before, but to refresh your memory, they are hollow, round dolls made of papier-mâché, and weighted at the bottom, so they will always return to an upright position when they are knocked down.  They are modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism in China.  Since Bodhidharma was a high-ranking priest, he wore red robes; this is why daruma dolls are red.   The fact that the doll always returns to its upright position reminds us that we must always get back on our feet again after any setback.  If you google images of daruma, you will notice that the designs on the doll are slightly different for each one; designs vary by region and by artist.   Different characters are painted in gold or black on the front of the doll.  The one illustrated here has the character for good fortune on it.  I have purposely left the eyes blank for you so that you can save the image and print it out, if you like.  

When you make a resolution or a wish, or start a new project, take time to write down exactly what you are hoping to achieve, and keep that note somewhere safe.  Make sure your goal is measurable and achievable.  Now take a black marker and draw a black circle in one eye; it doesn't matter which one.  When you have completed your goal or project, fill in the other eye.

These days, although daruma are considered "toys," they are still regarded as a talisman of good luck, and as such, they are a popular gift of encouragement for friends.  They are often sold in gift shops at Buddhist temples as an aid in goal-setting.  Political candidates often have a huge daruma sitting in their campaign headquarters.  The candidate paints in one eye when he announces his candidacy, and the other eye if he wins.  Both are great photo ops. 

Although the Japanese joke about being a mikka bōzu (and they are fairly realistic in admitting their weaknesses), they continue to make a big deal out of goal setting, and I like the way they emphasize it at the start of the new year along with the idea of concluding business, paying debts, and cleaning their homes, schools, houses of worship and business establishments before the new year arrives.  There's a natural yearly cycle, and it reminds us that goals should have a time limit.  In other words, set a goal that will only take you one year, at most, to complete, and don't set more than one goal at a time.  You can always set another one next year.  :-)

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