During the new year celebration, and especially the 3rd of January, thousands of people gather at Kita-in temple to pray, of course, but also to buy doruma dolls.
Usually painted in red, this doll represents Bodhidharma, who was born in Southern India in 482 A.D. After discovering the teaching of the Buddha, he was sent in China, where the influence of this religion was wanishing. Unable to convince the Emperor of the value of his teaching, he retired in a cave near the Shaolin Temple, where he meditated 9 years. Bodhidharma eventually developed an exercise program for strengthening the monks body, which was so efficient that it could be used for self-defense!
There are several legends associated with Bodhidharma. In one of them, he was so angry at himself for falling asleep while meditating, that he cut off his eyelids. In another one, he spent so much time meditating that his legs eventually fell off.
The Bodhidharma doll is associated to dedication. In Japan, people paint one eye of the doll when they have a task to accomplish, and when this task is completed, the other pupil is painted. The doll also has the particularity of coming back to the vertical position when it is laid down - a behaviour associated again with the dedication.
For more information on Bodhidharma : http://www.zenmind.com/bodhidharma.html