Japanese Traditions: Teru Teru Bozu

Ward Off Rain With This Cute Handmade Doll

The rainy season can be depressing — unless you brighten it up with a Teru Teru Bozu doll.

Remember the famous scenes from The Notebook, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Chasing Amy? Yes, those scenes. We wish! In movies, rainy days are primarily signaled by passionate kissing in the rain. Well, I don’t know about you, but my life doesn’t work that way. In my world, rain means melancholy days, moldy interiors, and candy-floss hair. And now that June is here, I hate to be the one to say it but the dreaded rainy season will very soon be upon us.

In a typical manner, however, our host country has its own quick remedy for most things bad — including never-ending rain. It’s called Teru Teru Bozu and it looks like a tiny Casper. Almost. 

I first came across Teru Teru Bozu around this time last year. To pass time, I was hanging out with my school librarian, a middle-aged woman with a sunny disposition, who like most Japanese, performed her job to her very best. Unlike me, when she found time to spare, she spent it wisely: crafting all sorts of bits and pieces to decorate the school library in hope of bringing joy to her students. On this specific occasion, Fukuda sensei was making Teru Teru Bozu in preparation for the rainy season.

So, what is it?

Teru Teru Bozu or “Japanese rain-prevention dolls,” as I like to call them, are traditional handmade dolls made from tissue paper or cloth, usually white and ghost-like in appearance, and hung outside doors and windows in Japan in hope of sunny weather. You’ll see many of them especially during the tsuyu (rainy) season and on special occasions, such as an outdoor festival or harvest events.

The words teru (照る), meaning “to shine” and bozu (坊主), referring to a Buddhist priest (or someone gone bald), call to a priest’s magical powers (literally: shine, shine monk) to prevent rain. In particular, Teru Teru Bozu are popular with Japanese children who are first introduced to them in kindergarten or daycare through a beautiful, yet slightly creepy nursery rhyme that became popular in 1921. The rhyme calls Teru Teru Bozu to bring back the sunny days, promising that if the wish is fulfilled, lots of sake will be granted, and if not, its neck will be chopped off. What can we say — children’s songs back in the days were not exactly on par with the Disney tunes we’re used to nowadays.

The Legends

There are multiple legends behind the origins of the cute good-weather dolls, some being quite terrifying. One story traces back Teru Teru Bozu to the tragic death of a “Good Weather Monk” back in feudal Japan, who had promised a Japanese village plagued by continuous rain that he would stop the bad weather and rescue the farmland. But the rain continued and the angry feudal lord ordered the monk’s decapitation and then wrapped his head in a white cloth and hung it up to wish for good weather.

Another legend says that the Teru Teru bozu tradition spread from China during the Heian period, and that the bozu was not a monk, but a young girl with a broom. As the story goes, during a time of heavy rainfall, a girl was sacrificed to save the city by symbolically heading to the heavens where she would sweep rain clouds from the sky. Since then, the people remembered her by recreating paper cut-out figures resembling her and would hang them outside in hope for good weather.

As the tradition goes, you make a plain faced Teru Teru Bozu, hang it outside your window then wait in anticipation. If the following day, the Teru Teru Bozu has delivered and the sun is shining, you show your gratitude by drawing a smiley face on it. If however, your doll has been unsuccessful in its mission … we say, be gentle and give it another chance. After all, it’s no longer feudal Japan!

Making Your Own

Making a Teru Teru Bozu is as easy as making instant ramen. First, prepare two same-sized square pieces cloth or simply use two pieces of tissue paper and one rubber band. Second, crumple-up one of the pieces of cloth into a ball-shape for the head, then wrap the other piece around it, twisting to make the doll’s head. Last, use your rubber-band to keep the head in place. And if you want to get a bit more creative, the following YouTube tutorial shows you how to make a really cute Teru Teru Bozu from a soft wool material! The principle is basically the same. 

Hope the sun will shine tomorrow!