El lodo, apartándolo del lodo, no es más lodo.
Mud, when it leaves the mud, stops being mud.
– Antonio Porchia, 20tth c Argentine poet
“Dorodango” is a Japanese word that means “mud dumpling”. It is a Japanese art form that can be created in a variety of ways. Dorodangos are made with nothing but dirt, water, and some time and effort with your hands. I find the process of making them to be meditative. It is a way of bringing myself fully into the present moment. It is like making a miniature Earth out of the Earth. There is something truly magical about making an almost perfect sphere just by slapping a ball of mud, rolling it around in one’s hands, and then polishing it till it develops a lovely sheen.
The method I share here is my own. I do not make “hikaru” or “shining” dorodangos, which is a more elaborate process. Mine are earthy and simple. The finished product is very satisfying, but the process of making it is the real pleasure.
The kind of dirt you use makes a big difference. Sandy dirt does not work well, because it tends to fall apart as it dries. You need dirt that has a certain level of clay or organic content in order to hold it together. You need dirt that has a gradient of grain sizes, so that tiny particles will work their way in between larger particles in order to get greater structural integrity. (Isn't this why churches, and other communities, need all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and kinds of people in order to hold together?) The higher the clay content, the shinier the surface will become. You can run your dirt through a colander and then through a mesh sieve or screen, to remove larger grains and other debris.
Mix about 2 or 3 cups of dirt with water. The amount of water will vary with the kind of dirt you use. Mix with your hands and keep adding water until you get a doughy texture – like bread or pizza dough. You don’t want any water to be oozing out of your mud ball… add more dirt if that is happening. Slap your mud into a ball and roll it around in your hands. If it is grainy or starts to crack, put a little water on your hands and roll the ball around and rub it to get it slippery. Then keep working it until it is barely tacky to the touch. You can “salt” it with fine dusty dirt if it is too mushy. Keep slapping it and rolling it in your hands for a while until it gets smooth, with a consistent texture and density. Wrap it in a cloth and put it in a bowl and wait for at least two to 12 hours. The cloth slows and evens out the drying process. Take it out of the cloth, roll it in your hands, adding dusty dirt on the outside if it is still “mushy”, then slapping and rolling it in your hands to get it as round and smooth and uniform in shape, density, and texture as you can. It is amazing how round the dorodango will get without the use of any tools or measuring instruments: it is almost as if they "want" to be spherical. Wait two to 12 hours and continue this process. My pattern is to work on my dorodango twice daily for 4 or 5 days. By the 4th or 5th day (or sooner, depending on the dirt), the dorodango is hard and smooth and round. It may still feel cold and the surface may still have moisture in it. When there is no more moisture on the surface, and the dorodango feels about the same temperature as the air, start polishing the dorodango with a soft cloth. Put the cloth in the palm of your hand, and with the other hand, roll and rub the dorodango onto the cloth. Do this for a few days until it gets a nice sheen on the surface, and you are done!
PS: Dorodangos are fragile. They will crumble if dropped and they scratch easily. Also, they will lose their shine and structure if they get wet.