Despite looking like a ghost, this little charm is actually supposed to bring smiles rather than screams.
Summer means beach trips and fireworks for many. It’s a time to lie around the house without a care in the world and to stay up late with friends. However, summer can also mean rainy days, which may put a damper on plans. Luckily, the Japanese have an adorable charm that can help ward those summer storms away: the teru teru bozu. Making one is simple and a tradition for many Japanese kindergartners. Alternatively, follow Renge from Non Non Biyori‘s example and dress up as a teru teru bozu to scare the rain (and the neighbors) away.
Resembling a stereotypical ghost in a bedsheet, the teru teru bozu is made from cloth or tissue and is hung in windows or outside to help ward off rainy weather. Teru roughly means “to shine” and bozu is a monk, usually with a bald head, so the name can be translated to shine-shine monk. These little charms became increasingly popular in 1921 after a nursery rhyme spread to kindergartens and schools throughout the country. In true nursery rhyme fashion, it asks the charm to keep the rain away and by doing so, it will be rewarded with sake — otherwise, it will be decapitated.
When making a teru teru bozu, it is made without a face. Hang it up outside somewhere or at the top of a window. The next day, if there is sunshine, a smiley face can be drawn on it.
The story behind the teru teru bozu charm varies from place to place. One story says that it’s based on a monk who promised a village that he could end the rain that never seemed to stop. Unfortunately, he couldn’t and was beheaded for not fulfilling his promise. His head was then wrapped in a white cloth and hung up by the lord of the village in a bid to stop the rain. Another story claims that it was not a monk but rather a little girl with a broom who was sacrificed in the hope that she could sweep the clouds away once reaching Heaven. This particular legend says that the dolls originated in China and traveled to Japan some time during the Heian Period.
The teru teru bozu has become such a staple in Japanese culture that it’s been featured in numerous anime. From Detective Conan to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid to Non Non Biyori, characters have tried to bring the sun back with this adorable little charm. The movie Weathering with You also featured the little ghost-like figure to try and end the rain. While the legend and nursery rhyme are sometimes left out, the act of making a teru teru bozu is used to create a sense of child-like wonder when the rain becomes depressing.
Japanese summers are filled with traditional activities like splitting watermelons and telling ghost stories. Fireworks light the night sky as children look on in wonder, sparklers in hand. When rain forces them to stay inside, the teru teru bozu charm gives them hope that the sun will return and they can once again go outside to play. There are bugs to be caught and memories to make, so there’s no time for rain. Teru teru bozu line the windows of local kindergartens, hoping to keep the rain away.
Molly Kishikawa is an American artist living in Japan. Starting with the original broadcast of Sailor Moon on Toonami, she has been an avid anime fan since. Living in Japan for two years, she has seen first-hand how the country views anime and manga. She also enjoys video games, Dungeons & Dragons, and J-Rock.