Invite sunlight into your life with the folksy tradition of hanging teru teru bozu dolls outside your abode.
June is the start of Japan’s tsuyu, the hot, sticky rainy season that hangs on through July, a two-month stretch when ominous clouds can dump sheets of rain at a moment’s notice. Luckily, there’s a folk remedy for all that wet, grey weather:teru teru bozu (てるてる坊主) dolls. Literally “shiny-shiny, bald-headed monk,” the teru teru bozu is a simple doll that looks just like the ghosts Western kids make during Halloween season. But these little guys are rumoured to possess the power to summon good weather (or ward off bad) with their smooth, round heads.
First popularized during the Edo period, this delicate dude is made of two sheets of tissue paper or square cloth wrapped around a small ball of stuffing about the size of your palm. The wrapped stuffing becomes the monk’s head, which you hang under the eaves of your house or at a window, inviting the sun to make the monk’s head “shiny-shiny.” Traditionally, the doll is hung without drawing a face. The next day, if the sun comes out, celebrate by drawing his eyes and a happy little mouth, or douse his shining head with ceremonial sake and send him downstream after his work is done. Teru teru bozu-making is a hallmark of Japanese childhood, and kids usually chant a folk song to the doll as they craft, promising that if the monk brings on the light s/he will “give you a golden bell,” but if the sky cries the child will “snap off your head.”
While that might sound a bit gruesome, it’s pretty standard for the typically morbid genre of nursery rhymes. It also gives a hint of one of the many myths surrounding teru teru bozu’s origin. One story is that, long ago, during a long period of bad weather, a monk promised his feudal lord that he could bring about sunshine—but when he couldn’t deliver, the lord had the monk beheaded, wrapped his head in a cloth and hung it up outside the castle.
Another (happier) story is that the little ghosts are effigies of Hiyoribo (日和坊), the “Good Weather Monk,” a ghostly figure who lives in the mountains and is invisible to the human eye on rainy days. There is some debate over the gender of this weather-wielding origin story, though. Some believe that he is a she, an adaptation of a Chinese myth of the beautiful “Fine Weather-Sweeping Girl,” who was sent out into a vicious storm with nothing but a broom in hand, a sacrifice to appease the heavens and save her entire city from drowning.
Let in the light
Teru teru bozu are part of a long Japanese tradition. Want to get in on the fun? Here’s how …
DO try this at home
Teru teru bozu are easy to make, so feel free to get crafty even if you’re just a kid at heart.
DO make it rain
Feeling overheated or sunburned? Just hang your doll upside down to summon showers instead of catching rays.
DO NOT just weather the storm
Kids also make these dolls to bring luck for important days, like school festivals and sports days.
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe