Hikaru Dorodango, Meditation with Dirt

I go hands on with Hikaru Dorodango, the Japanese art of making shiny mud balls. I grab a handful of dirt from my backyard and give it a try, and uncover a myth I never considered along the way. 

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Dorodango History

The origins of Hikaru Dorodango are unknown except that it comes from Japan.

Also known as Dorodango, which means “mud dumpling”, is the Japanese art of using earth or dirt and water to make shiny sphere balls that often look like billiard balls.

The Hikaru part refers to its shininess.

It was dying out until its resurgence almost 20 years ago by a professor from the Kyoto University of Education who used it as a way to study how children play.

Through 200 plus experiments and analysis using an electron microscope, he developed a simple method and with the help of the media, it’s gone international.

Dorodango that refuses to dry
My Dorodango which refuses to dry.

It’s easy enough that school children make them but can be taken to levels where it takes several hours and different types of dirt are used for a variety of effects and polish.

This is a hobby that is more about the process than end result and is often compared to meditation.

Because of the time it takes and it being unique to every person, set of hands, and type of dirt, there seems to be a personal connection with the end result. This is backed by the study of children playing.

It also seems to be a metaphor for process refinement and the quest for perfection.

How to make a Japanese Mud Ball

It all starts with dirt.

The colour and finish reflect the dirt you use.

Add water until you have a thick mud. If there is any pooling, you need to add more dirt or wait for the water to evaporate.

It should be pasty and sticky like dough.

Shape it into a ball with your hands. If it doesn’t hold its shape, it’s too wet.

Once you have a sphere you’re happy with, put it in a bag and put it somewhere warm to dry out. This can talk 30m to a few hours depending on your mud. Try to put it on somewhere soft so it retains its shape.

Once the ball has lost some moisture, take it out of the bag and start on the next phase.

After days in the fridge, it’s still wet.

Coat the ball with dirt, carefully so that it doesn’t change shape. Once the ball is coated, put it back into the bag to dry out more.

Take it out and add more dirt but this time use finer dirt. It should be compacted at this point and smooth and even.

This step was the most meditative part of the hobby and where I was beginning to be sold. Unlike doing surveys for money, I could zone out and enjoy myself.

Adding yet another layer of dirt.

The last step is to take the dried ball and start to polish it with a soft cloth.

MythBusters tries Dorodango

Hey, you know the saying “you can’t polish a turd”? Well, MythBusters used this technique with different animal manure and proved that saying wrong. So now you have that in your back pocket.

How-to Links