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Basic Otedama: A Tutorial

July 1, 2007

Otedama are Japanese beanbags, and also the game played with them.  I have no idea how to play the game, which sounds like a combination of juggling and jacks, but I’m hooked on the beanbags.  They’re quick and easy, a great way to showcase small amounts of fabulous fabric, and can be used as paperweights, pincushions, or just as ornaments. 

Here’s a tutorial for making your own.  You’ll need everything you see here:

tutorial 001

Cut 4 pieces of fabric 3.5 cm by 6.5 cm out of two contrasting patterns. Assemble your thimble, scissors, sewing thread, needle, beeswax and pincushion. Lay them out like this to see how the patterns fit:
tutorial 002

Now you’re ready to start sewing. Begin by sewing one pink and one blue (or whatever colors you’re using!) to one another at right angles. Use a 5 mm seam allowance.

tutorial 003

In this picture, the seam is running vertically. After you sew each seam, use a bone folder to flatten the seams–it’s easier and faster than trying to manipulate an iron on these tiny bits of fabric.

tutorial 004

Match the centers of the two pieces and sew across.

tutorial 005

Flatten seams with your bone folder. Look how lovely! Now for the slightly tricky part.

tutorial 006

Pin one flap to its adjoining piece on the left and sew across the edge. Repeat around the whole square, making sure always that you are sewing contrasting pieces together.

Otedama tutorial 7

This is what it will look like when you’ve made your way all the way around the second round of sewing. If you turn it over, it will look like this:

Otedama Tutorial 8

Repeat the sewing-around process, but leave one seam unsewn. Turn the otedama right side out.

Now you’re ready to stuff your otedama. I use buckwheat, because we live in a very dry climate, and because I once bought a whole bunch in bulk and then the kids refused to eat it, so it’s been hanging around for a long time cluttering up my pantry. You may want to use plastic beads, which won’t mold or get buggy, no matter where you live.

Otedama Tutorial 10

Use a funnel to get the stuffing in. It’ll take maybe four or five tablespoons of stuffing: don’t fill it too full! There should be some squish to it.

Otedama Tutorial 11

Blind stitch the opening. Then carefully take three or four stitches through the center of the beanbag and pull them tight. You’ll get a sort of doughnut-peach shape. If you like, you can sew a button here in the center–little fabric-covered ones are especially nice.

Otedama Tutorial 12

Voila! Your otedama.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2007 4:39 pm

    Hello! I work with Kristin on her Sew, Mama, Sew! blog ( and we’d love to link to your fantastic tutorial for an upcoming feature. Would you please email me at your convenience for details? I can’t seem to find your email address… Thanks so much! –Beth

    • August 29, 2017 9:05 pm

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  2. stradine Harris permalink
    November 1, 2007 2:38 pm

    I am a teacher, mom, coach and I am teaching a unit on playground games around the world. Where can I purchase a few traditional toy -“otedama”? Please help in a hurry!

  3. 3GIRLS & a goat permalink
    November 23, 2007 2:11 pm

    these are fantastic little surprise presents, highlighting the beauty of pattern and colour, and the potential for 3 dimensional creation. So simple, so lovely.

    Thanks. I will give it a go over the weekend
    love from Brisbane, Australia

  4. Diane permalink
    November 23, 2007 6:04 pm

    I made some of these using instructions from a book with pictures that weren’t nearly as clear and well-shown as yours. Well done on a marvellous tutorial!

  5. melyndahuskey permalink*
    November 24, 2007 1:23 pm

    Thanks for stopping by, Friend from Brisbane. If you get a chance, do let me know how they turn out–I’d love to link to you.

    Thanks a million, Diane. This was my first tutorial, and as I look back, I’m a little embarrassed by the blurriness of some of the photos . . . I’m not really a photographer at all. But I do love the otedama!

  6. Lisa permalink
    December 8, 2007 1:16 am

    Is this right? 3.5 cm?? by 6.5 cm?? I kept measuring and re-measuring thinking “yeah.. ok that’s right.. these are *tiny*.” Unless you are a great seamstress (and good at tight corners, small seams, and such), I’d either make them a little bigger (may not be traditional, but it’ll be a little easier) or skip it. They ARE cute.. but man, they hard to work with because they are so small. Just my 2 cents.

    I know my daughter will want so, so I will make more – but bigger! Maybe twice as big. :S

    Thanks for the tutorial though!

  7. Lisa permalink
    December 8, 2007 1:28 am

    M’kay, nevermind I guess. Did some digging and I guess the size is right. I’ve always had great respect for the Japanese, but now I really respect their otedama!! Wow

  8. melyndahuskey permalink*
    December 10, 2007 11:03 pm

    They are really small, Lisa–it’s authentic, but pretty fiddly unless you are a confident hand sewer. They work fine in larger sizes, too, as long as you keep the proportions the same–I made a set almost three times as big for juggling bags for a friend. But there’s something extra-sweet about the teeny-tiny ones, especially with small-scale vintage fabrics.

  9. Dana permalink
    December 18, 2007 12:02 pm

    Thanks for the gorgeous tutorial. I looked up the playing of the game and it is very complicated – wow. Just for interest sake, this is from Wikipedia: “Otedama was most popular among young girls in post World War II Japan. The bean bags called ojami were sewn together from strips of cloth and contained small azuki beans. During war times, parents could smuggle extra food for their hungry children inside them.”

    I’m making some tonight!

  10. December 24, 2007 4:48 pm

    Very Cool! Thanks for posting this! I made a larger one for my daughter, didn’t have much to stuff it with until I realized that “pony beads” would work as stuffing.

  11. June 21, 2008 4:07 pm

    I made two, but I made mine a bit larger, as I wanted to use it for a pin cushion. Your directions are great! I didn’t have any trouble and I am a beg/intermediate sewer. I blogged about my Otedama at

    Thanks for the great directions.


  12. melyndahuskey permalink*
    July 1, 2008 8:34 pm

    Thanks, Shannon. It’s so much fun to see all the different versions people are making!

  13. August 16, 2008 5:47 am

    Thank you for the clear photographs! Otedama making is a snap when you have made one already, or watched someone make one. But even though I read Japanese, the book I used to show me how to make them made me end up with a mess of mismatched seams. I was embarrassed that I could not follow the supposedly easy diagrams. Now, from your awesome tutorial, I saw what I was doing wrong and have made some with success. Thanks again from Tokyo!

  14. melyndahuskey permalink*
    August 17, 2008 11:20 am

    Love your blog, Jennifer! You’re living one of my “if-only” lives . . . Tokyo! I’m so glad the tutorial helped.

  15. Linh permalink
    August 27, 2008 2:01 am

    As i know, you are Jennifer
    I like this toy so muchI’m from Vietnam and there is no tutorial to make that clearly
    So I hope you are kind enough to permit me to copy this tutorial. Are you ok?
    I will share it for all Vietnamese teen -who are interested in making handmade toys

  16. Taylor permalink
    August 29, 2008 4:16 pm

    Hey, great tutorial. I’m a juggler myself and a student of japanese language and culture and was looking to throw a bit of that into my repretoire. I just have one question, and it might be a stupid one at that.

    What’s the beeswax for? It’s listed under needed materials but I didn’t see any reference to it afterwards.

  17. Linh permalink
    August 29, 2008 9:59 pm

    I’m very pleasant to see your mail. You’re so cool.
    I will translate it into Vietnamese and send it to you.
    I’ll post it to – a website about Japanese cutural, focus on Japanese comic book (manga)
    Thank you for your kindness!!!!

  18. August 30, 2008 1:47 pm

    Taylor–Nice to see you here! The beeswax is to wax your thread for handsewing. It makes it a little tougher, and keeps the seams nice and tight. I always wax thread before I sew buttons, toys–anything that’s going to get hard wear.

    How exciting to be translated into Vietnamese! Let me know if anything isn’t clear, and I’ll be glad to rephrase it.

  19. nani permalink
    July 4, 2009 5:23 am

    having lived in okinawa for 3yrs and playing otedama everyday i can tell you the size of these are correct. think of american jacks and how small they are. now think of a childs hand and how small it is. you need 5 bags. you start by throwing one bag up and picking up one before it hits the ground. then you throw up one and pick up two. throw up one pick up three. throw up one pick up four. if at anytime you don’t pick up all required in that round you are out and it is the next persons turn. if you do make it and pick up all four you then take all five in your hand throw them up flip you hand over and try to catch as many on the back of your hand as possible. once you do that you then throw what are on the back of your hand up and turn your hand back over and catch those in your palm. say you catch three on the back of your hand throw them up and catch all three. you then have three points and it is your turn again. if you only caught two of the three then you would be out and it would be the next persons turn. you do this to see who can get the most points and wins. there is no set number of points per game unless you set one. when we moved to the states i taught this to my classmates and they loved it (every the boys). my teacher started holding tournaments. it got very competitive and everyone had to have their own set. hope this helps. enjoy.

    • melyndahuskey permalink*
      July 4, 2009 2:46 pm

      Nani, thanks so much for the information about otedama. I’m thinking I’ll make a new set and the kids and I can try playing tomorrow, now that you’ve told us how! Hurrah!

    • Rebecca Geary permalink
      October 12, 2009 6:32 am

      Do you know any of the traditional songs that went with the game, or a site where I might learn them? I am making the sets with my daughters and wanted to teach them a bit of the culture/history that goes with it. I understand many of the songs may be lost. . .

  20. Eva permalink
    November 23, 2009 2:15 am

    A great tutorial and a posting that made me smile. Why? I was treated with buckwheat porridge every Saturday in my childhood, and I hated it and went on strike. For my parents, it was some kind of respected food from their lost Baltic home country. So they wouldn’t accept my denial. But I found it bitter and too heavy. I would have liked bulgur or any other grain meal, I loved rice, but why buckwheat?
    Later, I learnt a few things about Traditional Chinese Medicin. It said that buckwheat belongs to the fire element and is very Yang. This is heavy for children! Maybe it even caused my occasional fever attacks out of no known reason. Probably I was given the wrong diet altogether.
    Later, as a grownup, I liked buckwheat.

  21. February 28, 2011 12:11 am

    Hello, I just found your blog while searching for Otedama games…thanks for the tutorial. I was kind of intimidated by the size but found it easy. I sewed most of it on my machine and it went by really quick and just finished hand sewing the opening.
    Looking forward to checking out the rest of your blog!

  22. June 7, 2017 4:15 am

    Julio · domenica, 2 dicembre 2012, 6:42 pmE pensare che ci sono dei potenziali sindaci magnifici per Roma, che conoscono i suoi problemi a menadito, che sono persone indipendenti, oneste, intelligenti e generose, come Paolo Berdini, e che non trovano sponde! Pensiamo anche ad Alessandro Bianchi, che ha avanzato la sua candidatura. Le alternative a Nicola Zingaretti, che corre per la Regione per coprire il vuoto che ha creato a se stesso il PD, ci sono. Speriamo che il PD le voglia vedere. Ma forse faranno finta di niente e proporranno la Melandri, Sassoli o qualcuno così.

  23. May 23, 2018 1:53 am

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