When I used to teach in Japan, I would occasionally come to school to find the windows of some of my students’ classrooms covered in what looked like little paper ghosts. The students would make them before a school outing, or before their Sports Day. They could appear at any time of the year, so they weren’t Halloween decorations…so what were they?
They were teru-teru bōzu, a kind of doll that’s example of traditional Japanese folk magic. Japan has a long tradition of using dolls for magical purposes, like the various types of dolls associated with at Hina Matsuri, and the teru-teru bōzu’s purpose is to control the weather.
The word teru-teru bōzu literally means “shine-shine monk,” and they are most commonly made in order to bring fine, sunny weather and keep the rain away. Teru-teru bōzu are usually made from paper or cloth and are hung with string under the eaves of a house or outside the windows, accompanied with prayers to ask for good weather. They are thought to have become widespread in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868), but at that time they were made from folded paper and more closely resembled a person than the ghost-like shape they take today.
In some regions, hanging a teru-teru bōzu upside-down is a charm to make the rain come, rather than keep it away. In this case, it is dubbed ame-ame bōzu (“rain-rain monk”) or rute-rute bōzu (“rute-rute” is the characters for “teru-teru” written backwards).
There is a famous nursery rhyme about teru-teru bōzu in Japan. In this song, children say that if the teru-teru bōzu brings sunny weather, he will be rewarded with a golden bell and sweet sake (rice wine). However, if the weather turns out cloudy, the children threaten to cut off the poor teru-teru bōzu’s head! You can find a recording of the song, together with romanised and English lyrics, on YouTube here.
I have made teru-teru bōzu for myself on two occasions – once before my Hen Party, and once before my wedding – in order to pray for fine weather. And on each occasion, the rain did indeed stay away. I also made a pair of teru-teru bōzu (dressed as a bride and groom) for two of my friends when they got married – and their day too was rain-free. So in my experience at least, teru-teru bōzu are effective!
If you would like to make a teru-teru bōzu, it’s very easy; it would be a fun activity for children as well. It’s a good idea to have a specific day in mind for when you want good weather, such as a day when you plan to be doing something outdoors. They also make great gifts. Here’s how you made one:
- Take a couple of sheets of white paper (tissue paper is best) or cloth, and scrunch them up together to make a ball. This will be the head of the teru-teru bōzu. If you want to make it bigger, add more layers of paper.
- Take another sheet, and wrap around the head to form the main, ghost-like body. Tie this layer in place with string or ribbon.
- If desired, draw a face on the head. Traditional teru-teru bōzu did not have faces, or else the face was drawn after it had successfully brought good weather, but nowadays most people seem to draw faces on them straight away.
- If you like, you can consecrate your teru-teru bōzu according to your personal practise. You could also offer prayers to suitable weather deities in your tradition. If you want to pray in Japanese directly to the teru-teru bōzu, you can say, “Teru-terubōzu, teru-teru bōzu, ashita tenki ni shite okure.” (“Teru-teru bōzu, teru-teru bōzu, make it sunny tomorrow”). This is the first line of the teru-teru bōzu nursery rhyme.
- Hang your teru-teru bōzu in a suitable location, preferably outside the house sheltered under a rooftop or by a window. If you desire fine weather, make sure your teru-teru bōzu does not hang upside-down – unless, of course, you want to make it rain! You should hang him a day or so before the day upon which you want the desired weather conditions to occur.
- If the teru-teru bōzu brings the weather you request, you should thank him by pouring a libation of alcohol over him. Traditionally the alcohol would be sake, but you might prefer to use a drink that’s more suited to your path or easier to obtain in your country. I used sparkling wine left over from my wedding to thank the teru-teru bōzu who brought fine weather on my wedding day.
- The traditional way of disposing of a teru-teru bōzu after use is letting him wash away in a river. However, this presents environmental concerns, so you may wish to use an alternative method such as cremating or burying him. Either way, it should be done respectfully.
One final word on teru-teru bōzu: There is a tradition in China of making very similar paper dolls for bringing fine weather, called sōseijo. This literally means “sweep-sunny-woman,” and as their name suggests, they take the form of female dolls carrying a broom! Witches may find this idea even more appealing than the Japanese teru-teru bōzu….
References and further reading