When I used to teach in Japan, I would occasionally come to school to find the windows of some of my students’ classrooms covered in what looked like little paper ghosts. The students would make them before a school outing, or before their Sports Day. They could appear at any time of the year, so they weren’t Halloween decorations…so what were they? [Read more]
Tag Archives: teru-teru bozu
Happy Tanabata! For those who are new to Shinto, Tanabata (七夕, “Evening of Seven”), also known as the “Star Festival,” is a Japanese festival held on the Seventh Day of the Seventh Month (July 7th). It is based on an old Chinese legend of Orihime (the “Weaver Star,” called Vega in English) and Hikoboshi (the “Cowherd Star,” known as Altair), who were lovers. Unfortunately, their love distracted them from their duties, so the Emperor of Heaven, Tentei, separated them on either side of the Milky Way (Called “Amanogawa,” the Heavenly River, in Japanese). However, every July 7th, Tentei sends magpies to build a bridge across the Milky Way so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet. But if it’s rainy, it’s said that the magpies won’t come, so the lovers have to wait another year before they can be together again.
In Japan, Tanabata is usually celebrated by decorating bamboo with colourful decorations (in groups of 7, reflecting the 7/7 theme), as well as paper with wishes (tanzaku) written on them. Traditionally you are supposed to wish for good weather so that Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet, but these days, people generally wish for anything they like in their life. It really is Wishing on a Star!
As my marriage is less than a week away now, Tanabata has special significance for me. I see it as a celebration of enduring love, with Orihime and Hikoboshi representing the Great God and the Great Goddess, and as an opportunity to wish both for a happy and loving marriage, as well as good weather for the occasion (as we are having an outdoor Handfasting, this is particularly important to us!)
On my altar, in addition to the usual four elements and offerings to the deities, I placed two little handmade pictures of a Japanese Prince and Princess made of beautiful painted shells that a friend gave to me in Japan. These are actually designed for another Japanese festival, Hina Matsuri, but they seem to work well as symbolise both Orihime and Hikoboshi, as well as the Great God and the Great Goddess. At the beginning of the ritual, I put them on either side of a central pentagram, symbolising their separation by the Milky Way. I then made prayers to a number of deities – three Japanese deities that seemed suitable to the occasion (Tentei, Amatsu Mikaboshi the Star God, and Inari Okamisama), three deities of love and marriage (Juno, Cupid and Aine), and the seven deities upon whom we shall call on our Handfasting (Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Apollo). After praying for blessings on our marriage, I united the figures of Orihime and Hikoboshi on top of the pentagram.
After this, I purified seven tanzaku wishes that James and I had written earlier. We don’t have any bamboo in our courtyard; the best I could do was hang them on a tree just outside our house which is covered all over in vines (it looks a bit like Jack-In-The-Green!). Finally, I then hung a Teru-Teru Bozu I’d made under the vines in order to pray for good weather for our wedding. As you can see in the picture, he seems quite happy under his canopy of vines!
What you can see in the picture there is 1,000 paper cranes, each individually folded by my colleague and good friend as a decoration for her wedding which was held earlier this month. Like me, she is not Japanese but Japan has been a very important part of her life, so she incorporated little bits of Japanese culture into her otherwise very English wedding (held in an old barn that the couple had renovated and decorated themselves in the heart of the beautiful Huntingdon countryside). The decoration isn’t just stunning, but also carries great significance for a wedding – folding 1,000 cranes in Japan supposedly grants happiness, good health, longevity and peace. This is because cranes have been regarded as sacred and magickal animals in Japan for possibly thousands of years, beginning with their worship by the Ainu (the tribe who inhabited the northern island of Japan, Hokkaido, before the people now known as the “Japanese” settled there).
In keeping with the Japanese touches to my friend’s wedding, I gave her money as a wedding gift in a special envelope called oshugi-bukuro, which is what you would do in a Japanese wedding. Traditionally, you should always give the couple clean, crisp notes fresh form the bank to symbolise their new life, but this is actually hard to do in the UK – none of my local bank branches had fresh notes in stock! I guess there’s not much demand for it. But in Japan, which is both highly cash-orientated and where cleanliness and newness is literally next to godliness (both concepts are highly valued in Shinto), you can get new notes quite easily; hotels, where Japanese weddings are often held, always seem to have them in stock.
I also made the couple a pair of teru-teru bozu, like I did for my Hen Party, to pray for good weather on their special day (and I decorated them as a bride and groom). I was delighted to see they actually displayed the teru-teru bozu in the barn at the wedding itself! They seemed to work – although it was overcast, and although there had apparently been a downpour a few miles away, there wasn’t a drop of rain and the sun even came out towards the evening. And before I left, I splashed a little champagne on the teru-teru bozu to thank them.
It was a beautiful and extremely joyful wedding reception, all down to the bride and groom’s amazing preparations. I only hope mine will be as enjoyable for everyone!
Tomorrow is my Hen Party, and to pray for good weather, my fiancé James and I made teru-teru bozu.
Teru-teru bozu (literally “sunshine boy”) are an old tradition in Japan, in which you make a simple doll out of white paper or cloth and draw a face on it (it ends up looking like a little ghost). You hang it by a window in order to pray for sunshine. If the weather does turn out fine, you thank the teru-teru bozu by pouring rice wine on him. Be warned though – do not hang your teru-teru bozu upside-down, as this will have the reverse effect and summon the rain!
We hung up our teru-teru bozu by the window overlooking my Inari altar. So far, the weather has been very good, so I think they might be working!
I also made some fresh offerings to Inari Okamisama, including a special offering of daifuku mochi (a rice cake filled with sweet beans), and prayed for a safe and enjoyable Hen Party. Seeing as Inari is associated with alcohol, it seemed very appropriate to pray to her for this purpose!