Back to the index

Shiny balls of mud

Table of Contents

The concept

Hikaru dorodango—shiny balls of mud. They are made by compressing mud into balls and rubbing them with dust until the surface is perfectly smooth.

They represent in some way that particular Japanese intensity: caring very deeply about some narrow thing, and mastering it completely. It reminds me of the idea of 功夫 in Chinese: the noodle maker who has arrived, through daily repetition, at a level of perfect mastery of his art. Anything can be so mastered.

The type of food that tends to be best is the small stand in asia where a family has been making the same dish for generations. This will of course be better than the restaurant with 20 page menus. Having recently begun such a buisness I have been able to watch us move slowly toward the platonic ideal of the dishes we are making, becoming quicker and more consistent each day we make the same thing.

Bruce Lee presumably chose the word 'gongfu/kungfu' for martial arts for this reason: he would say to fear the man who has practices one kick 10,000 times, not the man who practices 10,000 kicks once each.

This is in conflict with the idea of being a generalist, or of at least spreading oneself amongst multiple niches to become the best in the world at your particular chosen intersection of skills, but I don't see why it would be impossible to achieve gongfu in multiple areas, as long as they are chosen carefully.

By staying focused on a limited number of areas, by simplifying ones life where possible and eliminating useless habits, possessions, desires, it feels like it would be possible to achieve a life that resembles a hikaru dorodango. In the article the hikikomori is given as an example of such a life.

To me, "Shiny ball of mud" now means: working on all aspects of your life to achieve something simple, polished, aesthetic.

This probably links to Mindfulness somehow!

Based on the article:

Tokyu Hands assumes that the customers is very serious about something. If that happens to be shining a pair of shoes, and the customer is sufficiently serious about it, he or she may need the very best German edge-enamel available for the museum-grade weekly restoration of the sides of the soles.

My own delight at this place, an entire department store radiating obsessive-compulsive desire, was immediate and intense. I had stumbled, I felt, upon some core aspect of Japanese culture, and everything I’ve learned since has only confirmed this.


The silent young men who must sometimes appear, blinking, in the unaccustomed glare of a Tokyo 7-114 at three in the morning, stocking up on white foam bowls of instant ramen, in their unlaundered, curiously outmoded clothing, are themselves engaged in the creation of dorodango, their chosen material existence itself.


The floors of Tokyu Hands are haunted for me now with the mysterious, all-encompassing presence of the hikaru dorodango, an artefact of such utter simplicity and perfection that it seems it must be either the first object or the last, something that either instigated the Big Bang or awaits the final precipitous descent into universal silence. At the very end of things waits the hikaru dorodango, a perfect three-inch sphere of mud. At its heart: the unthinkable.

The secret of Tokyu Hands is that everything on offer there inclines, ultimately, to the status, if not the perfection, of hikaru dorodango. The brogues, shined lovingly enough, for long enough, with those meticulously imported shoe-care products, must ultimately become a universe unto themselves, a conceptual sphere of lustrous and infinite depth.

Just as a life, lived silently enough, in sufficient solitude, becomes a different sort of sphere, no less perfect.


The Zettelkasten is a shiny ball of mud. It accretes dust over time, and becomes more valuable as it is polished.

It is a metaphor for intentional living: mindfulness and forethought vs reaction and mindless time wasting.

Back to the index

Last modified 2019-08-16 Fri 16:27. Contact