The tradition of hanging a teru teru bozu doll outside as a prayer for sunshine a tradition that nearly all children in Japan are familiar with, and if you have or have had children in yochien (Japanese kindergarten) or hoikuen (daycare), they will have brought back teru teru bozu tissue-made or paper dolls (my daughter still remembers how to make them). They will likely also have heard or learnt to sing the hauntingly beautiful traditional children’s nursery rhyme teru teru bozu, which also has an ominous ending that appears to signal a beheading of some sort. To listen to a lovely, if slightly creepy rendition of the song, click here. The lyrics follow immediately below.
Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Itsuka no yume no sora no yō ni
Haretara kin no suzu ageyo Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Watashi no negai wo kiita nara
Amai o-sake wo tanto nomashoTeru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Sorete mo kumotte naitetara
Sonata no kubi wo chon to kiru zo
Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
Like the sky in a dream sometime
If it’s sunny I’ll give you a golden bell Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozuDo make tomorrow a sunny day
If you make my wish come true
We’ll drink lots of sweet rice wine Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
But if the clouds are crying (it’s raining)
Then I shall snip your head off
The teru teru bozu dolls is the central object (and subject) of the nursery rhyme, which may be sung as the doll is hung up. As the song goes, the teru teru bozu (which translates literally as “shiny shiny baldhead”) is bribed with a golden bell and sake in exchange for successfully preventing rain… and given an unveiled threat that failure would result in its head being cut off.
Now ordinarily, a great many more English nursery rhymes compared to Japanese rhymes hint of far more sinister or calamitous origins than Japanese ones, but the teru teru bozu presents an exception.
The first time I saw them I thought they were reminiscent of the effigy dolls of Siberian shamanistic religions. These dolls have intrigued me a long while but detailed knowledge of their origins has eluded me for until now.
The origins of teru teru bozu dolls
The words of the teru teru bozu song hint to us of the tradition’s origins as an ancient superstition similar to a rain spell or chant calling down rain. The difference is that the teru teru bozu spell appears to be a reversal spell to procure not rain, but fair weather. The offering of a golden bell and sake calls to mind the many ancient archaeological artifacts of large numbers of buried bronze bells that have been found in Japan during the Yayoi Period which significantly was when the rice paddy culture was introduced from the continent into Japan. Sake and fruit wines have been traditional offerings to the kami gods since Jomon times. One wonders if there isn’t a connection.
The story that is most commonly known and cited by the Japanese, as explaining the origins of teru teru bozu, however, is this:
There was a monk who promised a village plagued by constant rains that he could stop the rains that were ruining their crops and bring good weather. When the rain continued and the monk was decapitated by the unimpressed villagers.
The story rings true and plausible but hints of far older practices from prehistoric-to-proto-historic times. We know, from the oldest Japanese historical records of the mythological age and of the era of the earliest emperors of Japan, as well as from archaeological excavations (evidence is found in Asuka, Nara and elsewhere) that there was an ancient practice of human and/or animal (horse, cow, etc.) sacrifice to river gods as well as of soothsayers, fortune-bearers and virgin maidens who traveled with seagoing expeditions, and who were thrown overboard to the sea gods as propitious or conciliatory offerings.
According to scholars, the tradition of weather-watchers and a rich folk culture of hiyorimi (weather-watching rituals and practices) can be traced with certainty to Heian period (749 – 1185) continuing through the Edo period (1603 to 1867). It has been suggested that the teru teru bozu weather-watching practice/ritual in particular was adapted from a Chinese practice which involved putting the teru teru bozu on the end of a broom to sweep good spirits your way. One wonders if this custom could originally have been a forgotten adapted tradition diffused by way of the Silk Route from the West which has an ancient tradition(Celtic and Gaelic) of a straw effigy weather divination doll called the Brídeóg (also called a ‘Breedhoge’ or ‘Biddy’), doll-like figure of Brighid [Imbolc] made from corn, rushes or reeds. The goddesses are associated with foretelling weather or purification with well water rites. Imbolc divides winter in half; the Crone months of winter are departing and the promise of the Spring Maiden is around the corner. Commonly represented by a doll, usually a Corn Dolly, or otherwise dressed in white, with a crystal upon Her chest, the doll, was carried in procession by maidens also dressed in white. Gifts of food were presented to the Goddess with a special feast given by and for the maidens. According to Brighid: Survival of a Goddess: “She possesses an unusual status as a Sun Goddess Who hangs Her Cloak upon the rays of the Sun and whose dwelling-place radiates light as if on fire“. Other than Biddy dolls, there is also a similar tradition of the harvest corn dolly or Corn-Mother, where in Holstein, northern Germany, the doll dressed in clothes is drenched in water indicating its function as a rain-charm while in Brie, Isle de France and Dingelstedt, in the district of Erfurt, there was a custom to tie up a man called the Old Man in the last sheaf, and who was brought home on the last waggon, rolled round the barn and drenched with water (source: “Killing the Corn Spirit”, The Golden Bough).
The Japanese farmers adapted the practice, by hanging the effigy figure, made of white cloth or paper tied with string, inside their houses as a charm/prayer offering for good weather. A Chinese legend denotes a female broom deity “掃晴娘” (alternatively, 雲掃人形, 掃晴娘) and there was evident in the Imperial Capital the apparent practice of white paper rain dolls [with the accompanying annotations “雨久, 以白紙作婦人首, 剪紅緑衣之, 以 苕 箒苗縛小箒, 令携之, 竿懸簷際, 曰掃晴娘”.
In Japan, the practice became popular especially by the middle of Edo era. When fine weather followed the offering of the paper dolls, people would then draw in the eyes (reminiscent of the Daruma doll practice) and offer sacred sake, record in the book called “嬉遊笑覧” and then throw the dolls and/or float sake offering cups into the river. In Japan, while white paper and cloth dolls appear to relate to weather and rain offerings, and are different from the Biddy-like straw wara ningyo dolls are dedicated to curse-/death-/and disease-bearing functions.
If the weather forecasting female deity doll of both Europe and China were the origin, then it is likely the continental Chinese broom deity doll underwent a total transformation in Japan somewhere along the way, turning into the “bōzu” or Buddhist monk character for the round, bald monk-like head of the doll, with the “teru teru” being a reference to bright sunlight reflecting off a bald head. (Although the shape of the teru teru bozu is resembles much more a straw female effigy than a male monk, imho.)
According to Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, the legend of the Hiyoribo Weather Monk is passed down many generations in Japan and is said to originate in the mountains of Hitachi-no-kuni (modern day Ibaraki prefecture):
“He is said to come from the mountains of Hitachi-no-kuni—modern day Chiba prefecture [s-i-c?]—and his season is the summertime. Hiyoribo is said to be a yokai who brings sunny weather, and who cannot be seen on rainy days.
Toriyama Seiken illustrated the Hiyoribo in his picture-scroll “Supplement to the Hundred Demons of the Past,” and explained that this yokai was the origin of teruteru bozu. He said that when children hang up teruteru bozu and pray to them to bring sunshine into the rain, it is actually the spirit of the Hiyoribo that they are praying to. …
In some areas of Japan the dolls are used by farmers on days when they hope for rain instead of sun. The dolls are are hung head-downwards and called furefure bozu or ameame bozu (both meaning roughly The Rain Monk) or ruterute bozu which is simply teruteru bozu said backwards.
And although teruteru bozu is the most common name, they are also known as teretere bozu and sometimes hiyori bozu. Researcher Miyata Noboru has found that in certain places in West Japan they are still called Hiyoribo and remembered as yokai….
The origins of the custom are vague. Some say that it comes from China, where untou ningyo (cloud-clearing dolls) and ameku musume (rain banishing girls) are just a few of the similar customs that can be found. Folklorist Fujizawa Morihiko sees the origin of both the yokai Hiyoribo and the teruteru bozu in a Chinese drought-god with similar properties.” – What are Teruteru Bozu
Hiyoribo (日和坊)– The Weather Monk
Finally, the teru teru bozu today continues its modern transformation in the consciousness of children, as it now finds itself in the weather Pokemon character Castform (see Wiki image below) whose ability, Forecast, enables it to change between multiple forms, each form having a different type.
Its changes are however, pointedly affected by the weather, and the Castform character displays an array of moves that allowed it to alter the weather and itself.
By Aileen Kawagoe
Odd Japanese Customs (LonelyPlanet.com)
On the Origin of Species About the inspiration for the Castform Pokemon character.
Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai What are Teruteru Bozu?