Temari balls are an ancient Japanese folk art that originated in China and came to Japan around the 7th century A.D. “Temari” means “hand ball” in Japanese and these balls were originally made for handball games.
They were originally constructed from deer hide, and women in the Royal Court would make brightly coloured balls for the little girls to play with. The ladies also used Temari making as an opportunity to perfect and show their stitches to gain the attention and favour of their favourite princes. They were originally made by the upper classes using silk, but the common people started making them using cotton, linen and wool thread. This allowed them to be made by many women in all areas of Japan and they became a favourite toy of children.
They were also made from remnants of old kimonos and discarded clothing which were taken apart and as much as possible of the fabric pieces and threads were used. The original deer hide ones were stuffed with pine needles and then sewn together. Alternately some balls would contain grains of rice, pebbles or bells in the centre so that they would rattle and some would been wrapped so tightly that they would bounce.
Traditionally to become a Temari craftsman was a long and tedious process beginning very early in life. You would be handed off to a master and do nothing but watch your master while performing servant duties in the workshop for the first forty years, learing everything you could by observing but being taught nothing. If the master felt that you were sincere after forty years, you would would be accepted to be an apprentice for the next thirty years (!!), repeating over and over the patterns and designs the master had made. You would never be allowed to create your own designs. It would only be after the master died that you could be acknowledged as a master.
To become a Temari artist today in Japan requires specific training and examination, spanning upwards of ten years to complete all certification levels.
Temari are still a highly valued and cherished gift, symbolizing deep friendship and loyalty. The bright colours and threads used are symbolic of wishing the recipient a brilliant and happy life. They are often given to children by their parents on New Year’s Day. Mother’s would place a small piece of paper inside with a special wish for her child. The child would never know what wish their mother had made when making the ball.
Nowadays with the introduction of rubber, temari balls stopped from being children’s toys to objects of art although Mothers still make them for their children.
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