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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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      Raye 9 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. 9 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.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      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.

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      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 2 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 2 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

    • LauraVerderber profile image

      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.

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      Raye 3 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.

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      marshacanada 3 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.

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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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