Fifth Empire Company


A dorodango.

12th July, 2020

Shining mud dumplings.

It’s so completely smooth and so completely round that it seems somehow inorganic. It’s about the size of billiard ball, though it could be as small as a grape or as large as a melon. Upon closer examination, even after rolling it in the palm of your hand, it can be difficult to deduce its composition. Stone, you might speculate, or perhaps porcelain; it’s cold to the touch, but with a strangely familiar clamminess that seems to suggest it is neither. Most people are surprised when they learn it’s made from garden dirt. It is what the Japanese call a hikaru dorodango or ‘mud dumpling’.

A family of dorodangos.

These shining, almost perfect spheres are shaped by nothing but the action of human hands; their deceptive polish is achieved only by a great deal of practice, time and patience. The method itself is simple; mastering it is another matter entirely. A well made dorodango may look like solid stone, but knock them or drop them and they will crumble into the fine dust from which they were formed, exemplifying the delicate relationship between order and entropy that shapes the universe itself.

Your first dorodango will be flawed - mishapen, dull. More often than not, it will break and you will be left with the nothing but the fragmented remains of several hours’ work.

A broken dorodango.

Your second ball will be better - rounder, smoother. With a little luck, it will stay in one piece. When your eye and your fingertips, by some instinct, deem it finished, you may find that you have become strangely attached to the dirty, lumpen little ball. You are its creator, after all. Several hours in its company have taught you every eccentricity of its form – its modest assets as well as its flaws. But the blemishes in its surface leave you unsatisfied. It is not quite round enough, nor as shiny as you'd have hoped. Compelled, you to try again, and again, until at last – a perfect, polished sphere.

Another dorodango.

The process described below is adapted from that of Professor Fumio Kayo, who is credited for reviving the lost art of hikaru dorodango. He himself learned of this obscure craft in the May of 1999 while studying the psychology of play. In the corner of a children’s playground in Kyoto, he sat among a group of toddlers making ‘mud dumplings’ in the usual manner – by squishing mud into a ball between the hands and allowing it to dry. A nursery teacher, noticing what they were up to, offered to show him how to make a real dorodango. When Kayo - a scientific soul - saw the shining, perfect sphere she was able to produce, he was fascinated. He tried repeatedly to imitate what she had done, but time and time again he failed. The balls would crack or lose their lustre after a few days.

After a great deal of experimentation, Kayo resorted to the use of an electron microscope. It allowed him to analyse the balls' physical structure in the smallest of dimensions, revealing the microscopic secret of their shine. With this knowledge and considerable practice he eventually managed to reproduce the effect that had so captivated him. He then set about developing a foolproof recipe for 'mud dumplings', which he taught to the children with whom he worked. The children, too, felt the irresistible appeal of a flawless shine. They soon began to make the dorodangos by themselves, learning from one another and coveting the 'secret' places where dust of just the right consistency might be found. Not long afterwards, Kayo’s dorodangos were featured on the news in Japan, leading to an international surge in popularity which possibly saved this simple past-time from obscurity.

A child makes a dorodango.

I. Take a handful of finely sifted dirt. Wet it until it is sticky.
II. Form a handful of the mud into a ball of a manageable size. Working it between your hands, squeeze the water from it and round it off.
III. As you round it, start to sprinkle dry dirt on top, gently incorporating it into the surface.
IV. As it dries, continue to compact it. Start to turn it in your palms until you notice a change in the texture of its surface. At this point it will slowly begin grow smoother.
V. Pat the ground until a fine dust rises. Use the fine particles that adhere to your palm, rubbing them gently around the surface of the ball. This requires about two hours of work.
VI. Allow it to dry for several hours. Some people recommend placing it inside a plastic bag to prevent it drying out and cracking. Repeat the previous step and allow it to dry again.
VII. Once the ball is no longer wet you may polish it with soft, clean hands. You may also use a rag or the rim of a glass jar. With a little patience, it will soon shine like marble.

Takes two to dango.

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