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Two hands holding brown ceramic sphere.

Dorodango: the Japanese Art of Perfecting a Sphere of Dirt


An eloquent metaphor in which patience and an aesthetic sensibility are the best ways to achieve perfection.

Among the rich cultural heritage of Japan there is at least one feature that always takes those of us in the West by surprise. It’s a feature that, paradoxically, is not easy to define but easy to understand, and that, perhaps, is the most distinctive thing about it.

While we know that in Japan there are techniques to repair the fractures in pieces of porcelain and thus to reuse them (with their wounds exposed but beautifully healed), and that a curative technique prescribes “forest baths” to prevent disease, a mind formed in the Western cultural matrix can’t but marvel at the simplicity of the solutions. Indeed, it’s as simple as repairing something broken and at the same time, showing the scar as evidence of history itself; as simple as understanding that there is no more suitable health counselor than the nature from which we’ve come and where most of the answers concerning our welfare are still to be found.

Another eloquent example of this way of approaching life is the “hikaru dorodango” or simply “dorodango” which is the molding of a perfect sphere of dirt, clay or mud. In fact, in its origin and even its etymology (“doro” means mud in Japanese), dorodango is closely linked to the childhood fun of playing with mud, and in this specific case with moistened soil, suitable for manipulating and forming more or less firm figures.

Over time, though, the entertainment has been refined and embellished. Beyond simply using other materials, it’s never lost its essence and its link with the land of its origin. “Hikaru” means brightness, because in this type of dorodango the sphere of clay or mud, after being molded as perfectly as possible, is allowed to dry. It is then passed over again and again by finely sieved powder, so that in the process, the sphere gradually acquires a layer of gloss, color and texture depending on the qualities of the powders used. It’s an exercise in which patience, perseverance, and a desire for perfection and beauty are all combined.

Everything is simpler than we think, these Japanese cultural expressions seem to tell us. And it’s in that simplicity that we find not complexity, but the richness of life.

Porcelain spheres in different shades of brown on window sill.


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