In the early morning of 9th June, Miko-chan was very excited to see Boss Panda putting up a blue and red sign on the front steps of the Bamboo Bathhouse in Tokyo.
The sign read まちゼミ or ‘machizemi’, and Boss Panda explained that when neighbourhood shops and businesses wanted to promote themselves or contribute to the local community they hold a local workshop or seminar – the word ‘machi’ means town or neighbourhood, and ‘zemi’ comes from the word ‘seminar’ in English. “A machizemi can be anything from a craft workshop to a cooking class or a lecture”, explained the big bear, as the little shrine maiden doll’s eyes widened with excitement.
“How exciting! What are we going to do here?’ she asked.
“Why don’t you come along and see?’, the large bear winked, and stepped back through the noren entrance curtain to the bathhouse. Miko-chan went running inside after him, and found Kiku setting up some craft materials on a bench. “We are going to be making something!’ she squealed. The little fox smiled at her enthusiasm – her joy for life was why he loved her so much.
At around 2pm, locals began to show up – Kiku thought that machizemis sounded like the perfect way to get to know your neighbours. One of the neighbours attending was Toji Tanuki (杜氏たぬき), the master saké brewer from the White Crow Brewing Co., a few blocks away from the bathhouse.
As he passed Kiku, the tanuki gave the little fox a strange look, and then carried on to his place at the crafting table.
Boss Panda welcomed everyone to the bathhouse, and explained that they would be making a traditional Japanese charm doll called a ‘teru teru bozu’ (照る照る坊主), in readiness for the summer. Made of tissue paper or cloth, these dolls are hung in a window to prevent rain. The term ‘teru teru’ means ‘shine’, as in the sunshine, and ‘bozu’ comes from a word meaning Buddhist monk – the belief is that a priest might have the powers to prevent a rainy day. June is marked by the rainy season in Japan, and sometimes charms are used in the hope of warding off rain before a special event such as a festival.
Mama Kojin held up a finished version to show everyone. “It looks like a little ghost!” exclaimed Kiku, who grew up in England and remembers similar decorations used for Halloween. The old lady nodded. “I have to agree that they do – they were popular with children in the Edo era of Japan, and they do have a slightly eerie quality when seen hanging in windows at night time. There is also a traditional Japanese nursery rhyme (or warabe uta/ わらべ唄) about them that I will teach everyone as part of the machizemi.
The friendly group set about making their little cloth dolls – Mama Kojin had prepared everything needed for each participant and made the doll as follows:
Take a square of white cotton, and thread a hanging loop through the centre, with a knot to keep it in place. You can also decorate the edges of the square if you wish to have a prettier, less ghost like charm.
Scrumple some tissue paper into a ball and place in the centre of the square, on the knot.
Turn the square the other way, twisting the centre of the cloth around the scrunched tissue into a ball/ head shape. The loop should now be on the top of the head.
Tie some ribbon at the neck, and decorate with a smiling face.
Hang your teru teru bozu in a window the day before you want the sun to shine.