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Making Japanese Hikaru Dorodango Polished Dirt Balls

Updated on April 25, 2016
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Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

The color of the finished dirt balls comes from the color of the dust or clay used to coat the outside layers of the tightly-compressed ball of mud.
The color of the finished dirt balls comes from the color of the dust or clay used to coat the outside layers of the tightly-compressed ball of mud.

The Art of Polished Dirt Balls

Proving they really do have an art for just about anything you can imagine, the Japanese have perfected the art of making hand-polished dirt balls. Steady, patient, manual compression is all that it takes to make these simple, smooth forms.

Think of it as the Zen of Dirt.

If you're worried that only some sort of expert would be able to handle this, I'd like to point out that the majority of the Japanese who do this are elementary-age schoolchildren. If a five-year-old kid can do it, so can you! Making a polished ball of mud takes dirt that is moistened just right, and a human who is willing to be very patient. So patient (or curious) they might find themselves starting over a few times to get the hang of it.

Sand Only - Unsuccessful!

While a sand-only dorodango seems to start out okay...
While a sand-only dorodango seems to start out okay... | Source
...as it dries, the center crumbles and it breaks.  You need dirt for the core.
...as it dries, the center crumbles and it breaks. You need dirt for the core. | Source

The Basics of Making a Polished Dirt Ball

You're going to want to use some nice clean dirt for this. Sift out any rocks or larger particles.

Using dirt from specific locations could have a strong effect on the color of the finished dorodango.

Start with your dirt and add water until you've got a really thick mud. If any water is pooling or doesn't soak in, you've got too much water and will either have to add more dirt, or let the mud sit and evaporate until it's not running anymore. The mixture should be extremely thick and pasty, almost like a dough.

Shape the mud into a ball using your hands. If it won't hold it's shape, the mixture is still too wet. Try to form as round a ball as you can. Once you get a nice sphere, put it into a plastic bag and place it somewhere slightly warm for it to dry out just a bit. This can take anywhere from half an hour to a few hours depending on your mud. If you can rest it on a soft surface, it will retain the round shape better.

Once the ball has lost some of its moisture, you take it out of the bag and begin working it again. Take some dry dirt and work it into the outside surface of the ball, being careful to damage or change the round shape as you add the loose dirt. Once you have the entire ball coated, it goes back into the plastic bag to dry out a bit more.

The next time you take it out of the bag, you'll be again adding dirt to the outer surface, but this time you want it to be very fine and dusty dirt. The ball should be very compacted at this time and the surface should be very smooth and even. You should be able to gently polish the ball with your hands at this point.

Lastly, you polish the surface of the dried ball with a soft cloth until it becomes very shiny.

How To Make a Dorodango

Beautiful Dorodango

This shows the internal structure, and how the different layers of dirt and mud are built up inside.
This shows the internal structure, and how the different layers of dirt and mud are built up inside.
This mud ball dried with an outer texture.
This mud ball dried with an outer texture.
Done just right, they can be brightly polished, even though they are just made of dirt and dust.
Done just right, they can be brightly polished, even though they are just made of dirt and dust.

You CAN Polish A Turd...

Ever here the phrase "you can't polish a turd?" Well, it turns out that you really can. Or at least you can if you go about it scientifically enough.

The TV show Mythbusters took on just that challenge and decided they would create dorodango using different types of animal manure. With some patience, a lot of polishing and a method for determining shine/polish, they created some very shiny dorodango in just a few days.

If you are so inspired, you can try and recreate their experiments. However, most people prefer to work with plain old dirt instead.

See Dorodango Being Made

Have You Tried Making Hikaru Dorodango?

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    • profile image

      billy 2 months ago

      hello how are you my mum said your mum wasn't nice jk besties

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 12 months ago from Seattle, WA

      Milly, when you read everyone's recipes, dorodango get made any way they can, it's really a balance of moisture and pressure which each person figures out for whatever they are using. I say give it a try or two and experiment, you might find it works for you.

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      Milly O. 13 months ago

      Can you make a dorodango with a dirt center, but a sand shell. So you do the first part with mud, but instead of adding dry dirt you add dry sand, or would that just fall apart?

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      VirginiaLynne, please let me know what part of making a ball of dirt is giving you trouble, and we can troubleshoot from there.

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Glimmer Twin Fan, after the thaw will be much easier for sure.

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      Virginia Kearney 2 years ago from United States

      Very interesting. I wish you had given more written instructions for how to do it, but you do certainly make an interesting idea seem possible.

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      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      This is fascinating. I've never hear of it and what a cool thing to try. I'll wait until we thaw out here, but will definitely be giving this a try in the spring.

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Georgina, this is a great way to get a bunch of kids focused for hours. Or nerdy adults.

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      Georgina_writes 2 years ago from Dartmoor

      I'm amazed. Who knew. Off to find me some dirt! Another great hub.

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Sed-me, I found if you need to keep things moister than you think because the ball is constantly losing moisture. Unless you have a puddle in there, just let it evaporate by air a bit.

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      Sed-me 3 years ago from An undisclosed location.

      I kept thinking I'd read about this before until I got to the end of your article and remembered seeing that particular mythbuster episode. These are really beautiful. It's hard to imagine that it happens so quickly with so little effort. Should we put a paper towel inside the plastic bag to soak up any extra water, do you think?

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Elijah, it sounds like you need to use a finer article dust on the outside.

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      Elijah 3 years ago

      Can you help me I can't get it to be shiney

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      Power Ball Pythons 3 years ago from Mobile, AL

      I love this; it looks really fun. I love how the Japanese take everything to an art form. This may be a great activity to try for our Geology club.

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Until you get the hang of building them they can be pretty fragile. It's all about finding the right balance of moisture. But people who practice making them regularly can construct them to be rather robust.

    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 4 years ago from Vancouver BC

      This is a fascinating hub. I want to try it. Those balls are really neat. Are they fragile?

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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      You are welcome to try whatever you want and see how it works.

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      Turnspike 4 years ago

      But you said such things as sand and ashes can be used after the core is made. I am about to make my second dorodango either today or tomorrow, and I have bought a mortar and pestle to further pulverize my sifted dirt and other things. I haven't yet tried pulverizing eggshell, but I would think it would leave me with powder finer than sand. Another idea I am using is to crush mud dauber nests to use for my final layers of dirt, the thinking is that the wasps gather up the mud and leave the rocks and other debris behind. It looks like super fine dirt, and I am excited to try it out. Thanks for the quick responses. It is very encouraging to see you still have a passion for this a few years after posting the page!

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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      You can't vary the materials too much really, because the only thing holding the ball together is moisture. Eggshells won't hold moisture the way that dirt or dust does.

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      Turspike 4 years ago

      Very cool, and so much potential to use other materials for the outer layers. Thinking of pulverized eggshell right now. Made my first a few weeks ago and learned volumes to apply to my next dorodango. This hub has been the best source of information I have found so far.

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      It really takes patience, especially the first time, but I found it to be a lot of fun even with the challenges of being a beginner.

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      Valene 4 years ago from Missouri

      I've never heard of this, but I so want to do it now.

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      epicguy2 5 years ago

      the best thing is that u can use any kind of dirt from anywhere

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      Jean Rogers 5 years ago

      Great pictures! Those are beautiful. The kids and I will mutually enjoy this project. I can't wait to find some good dirt to play with!

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      Lydia 5 years ago

      Lol I found out about this in that Mythbusters episode. Anyway, it sounds really cool, so I NEED to try it!

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Dude, you use sand for the outer layers but to really get the ball started, you need a more solid core of dirt (higher clay content).

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      TheDude 5 years ago

      whould sand work?

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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Using a different dirt for the outside layer totally works.

    • WretchedRapture profile image

      WretchedRapture 5 years ago from California, USA

      Would it work if I used regular ole backyard dirt, and then used black art sand for the outside layer? I want it to be black but I'm not so sure where I can find pure black dirt :/

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      WretchedRapture, I'm going to a place with bright orange dirt later this spring.

    • WretchedRapture profile image

      WretchedRapture 5 years ago from California, USA

      Thank you so much for sharing! Voted up and useful! I can't wait to try this. It would be interesting to collect dirt from the various places I plan to travel and make a nice collection of dorodango :D

    • Steve LePoidevin profile image

      Steve LePoidevin 5 years ago from Thailand

      I just ran across this hub and definitely have to give it a try! It seems very similar to the process used to burnish clay for pit-fired Navajo pottery in the Southwestern US.

    • crockpotcooking profile image

      crockpotcooking 5 years ago

      This is first time that I read about this Japanese art. However, when I was a kid, we used to make small mud balls and used it like weapon, throwing to each other. Like snowballs, when there is no snow around :)

      Nice hub!

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      yayayayay 6 years ago

      yay? yay!

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      inveni0 6 years ago

      @Meowwl, Actually, ash WILL work. I wanted to try dorodango and actually used ashes from the wood stove for my first try. I didn't even screen it to get the chunks out. It's true that it is a little "pasty", and getting the initial sphere shape is a bit more difficult. But once you reach the third step, you're good to go. The fine ash particles make polishing the ball absolutely stunning.

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      ronald 6 years ago

      I'm hommage try it with coffee...

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      Emma 6 years ago from Houston TX

      An excellent article,thanks for sharing and also enlighten my knowledge.

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      Andy 6 years ago

      I find this fascinatingto be a way to de-stress after a busy week. I always loved this sort of thing and after seeing it on Mythbusters I knew I had to try...now I'm hooked!

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Well, Matt, there's only one way to find out...

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      Matt 6 years ago

      I would lke to try this but I don't know if planters soil will work

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      Raye 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      You can use any dirt. That's how you make the different colors.

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      ... 6 years ago

      Could you use the red dirt/clay stuff from Alabama, cuz we don't have black dirt.....

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      toto 6 years ago

      hi i love meking thes stuff lmaoooo

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      Mitchell Allen 7 years ago

      I learned about this via wisegeek.com and went randomly surfing for dome visuals. This is a beautiful hub!

      I want to go play in the dirt :)

      Cheers,

      Mitch

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      wps 7 years ago

      I just did this in 2 hours and i died it blue its awsome

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      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      It's not going to work with just sand, as that has a different consistency and absorption than dirt. You need dirt to get the core started and then really fine sand for the final outside layers.

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      hi 7 years ago

      do you know if this works with sand? I'm at the beach and I want to try it, but I can't find any dirt... only sand, sand, and more sand.

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      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Ash is not necessarily a good material, as it turns to paste when wet. Plus there's the issue of how people would react if they learned the polished ball was made of human remains.

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      Meowwl 7 years ago

      I wonder if this can be done with cremated remains? No more need for an urn on the mantle, just an artistic, shiny ball.

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      Adena 7 years ago

      that's awesome, i saw the episode of mythbusters and want to try it myself...

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      daniel 7 years ago

      u can shake the ball a moisture is drawn to the top

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      Abbie 7 years ago

      Looks cool

      I'll definately try it!

      I'll probabyl quite halfway though

      I have a terrible patience level.

      : /

    • profile image

      dogboy 7 years ago

      im going to try this

    • adorababy profile image

      adorababy 7 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      This is actually a unique art form for me and it's my first time to hear about it. I must admit it is a little bit strange but nevertheless, UNIQUE.

    • relache profile image
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      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Many people find they get cracks when they start out. Make sure the dirt you are layering on has enough moisture to seal that up. Cracking is a sign of the ball drying too fast.

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      vultron101235 7 years ago

      so if you get a crack in the dirt ball when you are still putting on the first layer is it okay?

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      zoey 7 years ago

      You can put it in your fridge for about 25 minutes to dry it out the fridge causes condensation and the water is removed

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      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      The more you try making them, the quicker it can go, but yeah, it's not something that goes fast.

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      roosh weel 7 years ago

      these take a fricken lllooonnnggg time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      Corissa 7 years ago

      I made one of these last year. I saw the episode on mythbusters and then we were hit by a bad storm on May 8th. Alot of trees were torn out of the ground and fresh dirt was thrown everywhere. Since we had no power I decided to try, and it is now my lucky, very shiny dirt ball. :)

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      Mike 7 years ago

      I made my first Dorodongo this weekend with my kids. They are surprisingly difficult to keep from cracking. But when they are done the are really amazing! Ours aren't perfect speres and have lots of defects due to pebbles and leaves in the mud - but I can't wait to try again. I'll still use the dirt from our yard but will strain it first next time.

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      cheren 7 years ago

      Iam in the miidile of the process well sort of i have been going at it ever since saterday

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      Raye 7 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Aly, what gives the dirt balls their different colors is different types of dirt. With food coloring, you'd probably get a dirt ball that would stain anything it touches, and these don't.

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      Aly 7 years ago

      What would happen if you put some food colouring in your mud? Could you make colourful dirt balls?

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      Priscilla Chan 7 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      Very interesting! I don't know if I will try to make it myself. It is nice to learn how to make it though. When you put it in a warm place, would it be okay to put it under the sun?

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      Jenna May Swan 7 years ago

      Cool - definitely gonna try this with some of the wierd purple dirt we have further up the track.

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      tom 7 years ago

      not easy

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      jacob 7 years ago

      This is the coolest thing ever try it

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      georgina 7 years ago

      wow this is cool am gonna try it... maybe not with the poop

    • KevCC profile image

      KevCC 8 years ago

      Amazing! Great hub.

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      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      If you get a finished dorodango wet, it will pretty much turn right back into mud, and fairly quickly too. And yes, they will shatter if dropped. They can also be scratched or cracked with little effort so take care...

    • lindagoffigan profile image

      lindagoffigan 8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      A bit gross with the dog poo. Don't know what else to say. How do it get the gloss and does the dirt balls shatter when dropped.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I love love love this!

      I love any art from nature. Thanks for this hub because I've not only learned something new - but I will try it and then have somethng to share!

    • LR Coffey profile image

      LR Coffey 8 years ago from North Carolina

      This is way cool!

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      multikiller4fun 8 years ago

      can u get a dorodango wet after u polished it?

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      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      The dorodango become solid, but not something that won't crack or split if you drop it or if you drilled it. I mean, c'mon, think about what they are made of and the process used to make them...

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      karpouzian 8 years ago from Iowa

      Hey Relache, how hard do they become? Rock hard? Hard enough to use a dremel to put a hole through them?

    • karpouzian profile image

      karpouzian 8 years ago from Iowa

      Wow, this is super fascinating!!! I need to really try this :)

      Time to buy some dirt...

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      elisabethkcmo 8 years ago from Just East of Oz

      a good project for the weekend.... thanks!!!

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      getitdone 8 years ago

      Those look incredible. I think I need to try this myself. I wonder how Nelle's are going?

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      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Different :)

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      Nelle Hoxie 8 years ago

      So my mud balls have received their second coat of dirt, no shine yet. But it is quite relaxing.

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      Raye 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      As long as you don't have any carpal tunnel issues, you should be okay, Nellie.

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      Nelle Hoxie 8 years ago

      Okay I am on my way out to the garden to get some dirt. It's been raining here for about 5 days, so my mud balls may take some time to dry out. But I have got to give this a try. My doctor did say that I needed to find a hobby...