Mayudama literally means 'cocoon ball' and they are small cloth balls traditionally used as New Year decorations in some parts of Japan. I assume they're based on the actual dyed cocoons which are more widely used. I haven't done a lot of research on mayudama but they apparently originated in Echigo province (now part of Niigata prefecture) in northern Japan. They were originally an amulet to wish for success in business and a good harvest in the year ahead. If anyone knows more about their history or use please feel free to add a comment. I wasn't able to find photos of other antique mayudama on the internet. I'm not sure if there might be another name that is used for them as well. Here are some old ones from my collection:
The next ones are very simply and quite roughly made
These ones are tiny - the smallest is only 1cm across..
The mayudama tradition has possibly died out in some areas. My husband doesn't consider them traditional in his hometown of Imabari but in a book of recollections of his childhood in Imabari in the mid-late 19th century the author writes " We set up the New Year tree. It is a drooping willow tree thickly studded with rice-paste and hung with ornate cotton balls, painted cards etc, Throughout the month of January it is to be seen in the parlour of every house nailed against the wall." I would like to think the ornate cotton balls might have been mayudama.
(from 'A Japanese Boy' by Shiukichi Shigemi originally published in 1890)