Did You Know That Rain Listens to Paper Dolls?

One thing that I just hate about being an ALT is having to bike to work in the rain. I do not have a car, or a driver’s license for that matter, so the only way I can get to work is walk (which would take be between 40 minutes to an hour depending on which school I am going to) or I can ride my bike (around 20 minutes to a half hour depending on traffic light). Today I woke up to find that it was rainy. More specifically it was raining the way that I hate the most.

It was that in-between rain where the rain gods can’t decide if they really want it to rain or not, so they sift water in the like powered sugar over a freshly baked cake. It is not heavy enough for an umbrella (unless you are Japanese and then you use an umbrella even if it is only cloudy) but not using an umbrella while walking a long distance (or biking) causes you to look like you took a really quick shower. Needless to say, it is very frustrating weather. Heck, Japan in the spring is a frustrating season. You will have warm days without a cloud in the sky and sakura everywhere and the following day is all goes down the drain with massive rain storms and winds that will knock you off your bike (true story). So, how do you ready yourself for such harsh conditions and annoying rain storms? As my junior high school principle explained to me this morning, at least in Japan, you make paper dolls.

I am referring to a white cloth or tissue stuffed with cotton or other soft material, tied off with string to form a head type of doll called a teru teru bōzu (てるてる坊主). Teru is a Japanese verb which describes sunshine, and a bōzu is a Buddhist monk, or in modern slang, “bald-headed.”The name translates to “shiny shiny Buddhist priest” which may refer to the shape for the doll’s head because it resembles a bald monk. However, a more comical approach to the name is that teru teru bōzu jokingly refers to the reflection of sunlight on a bald head (of a monk). I personally like the latter.

an adorable terru teru bozu

an adorable terru teru bozu

I guess I should not call them dolls because they are not dolls but “charmed ghosts” that have magical powers to bring good weather and to stop or prevent a rainy day if hung around the house (especially in windows). On the flip side, if there is an outdoor plan that you do not want to participate in, you can hang teru teru bōzu upside down to encourage it to rain. Either way, you would hang your little white friend the day before said event. The practice of hanging teru teru bōzu began in Japan long ago, in the Heian Period (749-1185). The practice came from China, where people would put teru teru bōzu on the end of their brooms to sweep friendly spirits toward them. The practice has practically completely left China, and for ages has been almost exclusively Japanese. Early on, Japanese farmers would hang teru bozu around their house as a wish for good weather for their crops. Some sources say that teru teru bōzu became popular during the Edo period among urban dwellers, whose children would make them the day before the good weather was desired and chant “Fine-weather priest, please let the weather be good tomorrow!”

some teru teru bozu hanging outside

some teru teru bozu hanging outside

I kid you not, there is a song. My junior high school principle and vice principle even sang it for me which resulted in the entire teachers’ room giving me a lesson on teru teru bōzu. I guess riding my bike to work in the rain was not all bad after all? Here is the song:

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Japanese:
てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしておくれ
いつかの夢の空のように
晴れたら金の鈴あげよ

てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしておくれ
私の願いを聞いたなら
甘いお酒をたんと飲ましょ

てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしておくれ
もしも曇って泣いてたら
そなたの首をちょんと切るぞ

Romaji
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 nomasho

Teru-teru-bōzu, teru bōzu
Ashita tenki ni shite o-kure
Moshi mo kumotte naitetara
Sonata no kubi wo chon to kiru zo

Translation:
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 bozu
Do 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 it’s cloudy and you are crying (i.e. it’s raining)
Then I shall snip your head off


Here is a video of the song

I particularly like the part where if the teru teru bōzu fails, you cut its head off. There are actually certain things that you must/should do depending on whether or not the teru teru bōzu performed or failed its role as a weather protector. If the weather on the day of your plans is what you had asked, one is supposed to drench teru teru bōzu head in sake (If you make my wish come true; We’ll drink lots of sweet rice wine), and float him down the nearest river as a sign of purification. Though, if teru teru bōzu allows weather contradictory to your plans, one should “dispose of it along with your burnable rubbish on the relevant day” and for good measure snip its head off.

The supposed origin of teru teru bōzu stems from China, where, at a time of great rains, a Buddhist monk had promised a village a cessation of the rain. After performing his rituals, the rains continued. Outraged by this, the villagers tracked down the monk, and beheaded him. However, many Japanese folk historians believe this story and others regarding the origins of teru teru bōzu may have originated long after the tradition had become widespread and is most likely in an attempt to refine the image of the doll and not make you feel silly for hanging a paper ghost in your window (that last part was just me)..

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