What are Teruteru Bōzu?

Translated and sourced from Yokai Jiten and other sources.

Teruteru Bozu, the small tissue-paper men, are a not unusual site on overcast days in Japan. Looking exactly like the tissue-paper ghosts American children make on Halloween, they hang from the eaves of houses, each one a wish for sunny weather from a child who wants to go outside and play.

But what the children don’t know—and most likely the parents don’t know either—is that what looks like a simple folk-custom is actually a prayer to ancient Chinese gods and to one of Japan’s monster clan, the yokai called Hiyoribo.

Hiyoribo (日和坊)– The Weather Monk

Hiyoribo is a legend that has been passed down for many years in Japan. He is said to come from the mountains of Hitachi-no-kuni—modern day Chiba prefecture—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.

Teruteru bozu (てるてる坊主) – The Sunshine Monk

Teruteru bozu are made from white cloth or tissue bound together with a bit of string. They are usually hung upright from the eaves of a house, and are used as talisman in the hopes that tomorrow will bring good weather.

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.

Teruteru bozu appeared around the middle of the Edo period in Japan. In the book “Kiyu Shoran” (Inspection of Diversions) the author writes of the custom that if the teruteru bozu is successful, and the following day is clear, then its head is washed with sacred sake and the doll is sent into a river to be washed away. In Edo period Japan, rivers were thought to connect to the afterlife and the realm of the gods, so sending the teruteru bozu down the river was returning it home in the same way that candles and lanterns were floated down the river during Obon, the Festival of the Dead. There was also a custom where—as with Daruma dolls—a face was only drawn on the teruteru bozu if it had been successful in bringing fair weather.

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.

The Teruteru bozu Song

Like many Japanese customs, there is a warabe uta—a folksong. The lyrics are allegedly about a story of a monk who promised farmers to stop rain and bring clear weather during a prolonged period of rain which was ruining crops. When the monk failed to bring sunshine, he was executed.

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

てるてるぼうず、てるぼうず
明日天気にしてをくれ
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
明日天気にしてをくれ
それで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 yo 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
Sore de 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 sake

Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu
Do make tomorrow a sunny day
but if it’s cloudy and I find you crying (i.e. it’s raining)
Then I shall snip your head off

The Tanuki Song

Tanuki are one of the most popular and ubiquitous of Japan’s magical menagerie.  There are few Japanese children who don’t know some variation of this popular tune:

______________________________________

Tan tan tanuki no kintama wa

Kaze mo nai no ni bura bura

______________________________________

Tan tan tanuki’s balls

Even without wind they blowing around

______________________________________

Strangely enough, this song began as a American Christian hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River” written in 1864 written by American poet and gospel music composer Robert Lowry.

The song made its way to Japan in the 1970s when it was adapted into a popular enka song, which was then parodied into the children’s tanuki song.  The parody version is by far the best known in Japan today, with many unaware of the song’s origin.

Almost everyone sings the identical first verse, but depending on where you live in Japan you might have heard variations on the continuance.

This is the version I learned in the Kansai region:

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Sore o mite ita oya danuki

Onaka o kakaete wahha hha

______________________________________

When hey saw that, the tanuki parents

laughed so hard their bellies shook.

 

______________________________________

In truth, there are probably as many variations as there are groups of children in Japan, with new ones being created every day.

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All translations and other writing on this website were created by Zack Davisson and are copyright to him.

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