Imagine you are out walking, on a chilly autumn day.
The wind is howling, and some rain is dripping from the leaves of the trees, reminding you of the storm that was the night before. It’s damp.
You suddenly walk into a pool of mud. Now your whole boot is all brown, wet and muddy. “Oh no!” you think.
“But wait a minute…” you say, and reach down to the muddy ground. You pick some dirt on your finger, and observe it.
“This might actually become something!”
And that’s how dorodango was born. At least in my fantasy.
“Doro… what?” I guess you’re thinking.
Dorodango is a Japanese art form in which earth and water (read: mud) are molded to create a delicate shiny “sphere”, resembling a marble or billiard ball.
Sounds crazy, right?
I’m not even making this up. Making the basic dorodango is actually a traditional pastime for schoolchildren in Japan.
You take some dirt, you take some water, mix them with your hands… and the result is astonishing. The first time I saw a dorodango I was totally flabbergasted. The process is so simple, but the result makes it seem like alchemy!
The word itself is made up of two separate words:
- Doro: literally means “mud” in Japanese.
- Dango: is a round rice dumpling.
Combine them, and you get dorodango.
More recently the process of making a dorodango has evolved into an art form. It’s really amazing. “The Way of Mud” you might even call it.
Care to try?
Here’s how you do:
- Step 1: Take some soil.
Basically any soil will work. But it should be free of pebbles and such. You can even use feces if you really want to (famous dorodango has been made from ostrich’s and lion’s feces)!
- Step 2: Take some water:
In a container, add some water to the dirt. The ratio of water to dirt will vary. Use common sense. Start by adding a small amount of water, mix, and gradually add more water until the mud reaches a nice consistency, like dough.
- Step 3: Roll into a ball, with your hands:
Grab a handful of mud and begin to shape it into a sphere with both hands, squeezing out as much water as you can all the time. Try to eliminate all irregularities.
Using various techniques, work the ball to point where it retains its round shape but isn’t so dry that cracks begin to form. This is one of the hardest parts.
- Step 4: Polish it like a madman:
Polish with a soft cloth. But begin carefully – if any moisture is present, the cloth will destroy the surface, and you will have to retrace some steps. Polish, polish, polish…
- Step 5: Admire your work:
Is this insane or what?
Those are balls of mud! And different color on the soil gives different results, as you see.
Here are some more:
They make pouring tea into an art form. They make shooting arrows into an art form. They make writing into an art form. Throwing people around, punching people in the face, cutting people with swords…
…and now playing with mud is an artform.
However, it’s probably just a matter of time before they have competitions, a ranking system, gradings, dojo’s, titles, organizations and formal costumes! History repeats itself… right?
So why did I write about this in the first place?
Well, I found it fascinating how dorodango, created from such humble material, are nearly the perfect expression of process refinement.
And where do we recognize that from?