What are Hikaru Dorodango?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Sometimes the best art comes from the simplest materials, and a prime example is the Japanese craft known as hikaru dorodango. Hikaru dorodango are nothing more than spherical mud balls created from dirt and water, but they can be polished to a surprisingly high sheen. Finished hikaru dorodango resemble enameled billiard balls, and some are even displayed as works of art in galleries around the world.

Hikaru Dorodango is taught to nearly all Japanese schoolchildren.
Hikaru Dorodango is taught to nearly all Japanese schoolchildren.

The hobby of hikaru dorodango was once very popular among Japanese preschoolers, much like making mud pies and other mud products was popular with Western children. Over time, however, the art of hikaru dorodango largely fell out of favor as children moved on to more sophisticated forms of play. A Japanese professor who remembered the craft as a child decided to use hikaru dorodango as a means of studying the effects of simple play on the learning process. The basic requirements for hikaru dorodango are only a supply of dry dirt and water, so it could be taught at practically every school in Japan, regardless of economic status. Japanese schoolchildren had a revived interest in the ancient craft of hikaru dorodango due to this study, and it is still popular today.

The forming of a hikaru dorodango mud ball begins with the proper mixing of dry dirt and water. The resulting mud mixture should be relatively moist but not wet, almost like a bread dough. Additional dry dirt should be sifted for any debris and stored nearby. It is the addition of dry dirt which will eventually result in an ideal hikaru dorodango.

The next step is to form a small round capsule from the moistened dirt. Rolling the ball in the palm of your hand should produce a round ball, but the craft of hikaru dorodango strives for perfection at each step. The round ball should be placed in a plastic bag and allowed to dry in the sun for at least a half hour. It should also be stored on something soft to avoid any flattening while it rests.

After the capsule has lost much of its moisture, more dirt is carefully worked into the ball, using the flesh of the thumb to maintain its spherical form. This step should not be rushed, since it will determine the final roundness of the hikaru dorodango. Once the ball has reached a diameter of approximately 3 inches and is perfectly round, it should be placed back into a plastic bag to dry even more in the sun.

Meanwhile, the final layer of dirt needs to be prepared. This is an ultra-fine layer of dust which can best be collected by patting the ground with your hands and using whatever particles stick to the skin. The dried dorodango ball should be compacted as tightly as possible, then carefully dusted until all the crevices and surface imperfections have been filled. When done properly, the surface of the dorodango should be very smooth to the touch and perfectly round.

The final step is to polish the hikaru dorodango with a soft cloth until it begins to form a noticeable shine. Some dorodango can become as shiny as an enameled billiard ball when polished very carefully. Creating dorodango of this caliber does require some practice and dedication, however, along with the ideal type of soil and proper weather conditions. Many people who try hikaru dorodango for the first time prefer to concentrate on achieving the ideal state of roundness, then strive to improve on the aesthetic qualities of the finished dorodango.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


if you watch myth-busters, you should know what this is. on the idioms episode, they used this to try to "polish a poop." Pretty much, they tried to use a turd instead of dirt, and it worked pretty well. at end of the show, i was thinking, for balls of turd and water, those are dang shiny! Afterward, i looked it up on the internet, and tried on my own, and i ended up with an awesome ball that looked incredible and almost literally sparkled.


When I first read "Hikaru Dorodango", I thought "Sparkly balls of dirt?!?"

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