Hari Kuyo - The Festival of Broken Needles
8th February 2014
“Hand sewing slows the heart it seems. Or it does mine. Perhaps like writing longhand it cannot be done at speed. Begs not to be. One stitch, one breath. The rhythmic dip and dive of the long nose, round eyed needle lets the thoughts lift loose. And the heart feels unburdened. Sometimes hand sewing is more a joy than a job.”
A needle is a fine tool: simple; portable; industrious. But what to do if it breaks, or is bent and can no longer sew true? Thank it. Lament it. Offer comfort. Japanese women do. For hundreds of years Japanese women have honoured their needles and pins on Hari-Kuyo, “the Festival of Broken Needles” which is a 400 year old Japanese ritual for giving thanks for broken and bent needles and pins. This involves sticking old and broken needles into soft chunks of tofu as a way of showing thanks for their hard work.
Hari-Kuyo originated as an annual, non-religious ceremony held in Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples for tailors and kimono makers to bring their worn and broken pins and needles (saved throughout the year) to lay to rest, and thank and honor for their faithful service. This tradition probably springs from the Eastern system of displaying gratitude towards objects that are a source of livelihood. It also reflects the animist belief that all beings and objects have a soul.
Hari Kuyo is not just about needles, it is also considered as a time to value the small, everyday objects of daily life that are otherwise forgotten. In the throw-away society in which we live, it is easy to overlook the small, inanimate objects, but better to recognise and appreciate them. This is called Mottainai, the concept of not being wasteful about small things, and that serviceable tools should not be carelessly lost, wasted or thoughtlessly replaced.
It’s also about the many sorrows that women are believed to carry in their hearts, the burdens of which are passed on to the needles during many hours of sewing. So the needles do deserve a proper farewell and rest at the end of their service. Burying needles in tofu is said to symbolize rest for the needles, as they are wrapped with tenderness. To show such reverence for a seemingly simple tool is, in the act of this ceremony, a living prayer. In fact, the women who participate in this requiem ceremony pray that their sewing skills will improve in the coming year. Hari Kuyo marks the end of the Japanese New Year celebrations and no household work is done on that day.
In generations gone by, a needle was a very precious thing - you may only ever have one needle. Imagine your connection to that needle, and the care you would take with it. That kind of connection is worthy of ceremony when its days are done, don't you agree?
While aspects of this tradition may be hard for us to relate to, it is the underlying ideas of being thankful for our ability to sew, and for the tools that we use to achieve our goals that are worth taking time to pause and reflect on. To look forward to another year of thoughtful and improved stitching recognizes the value of humility and the sense that “I cannot do anything completely alone”.
So now that you know about this 400-year-old Festival, consider creating a special soft place in which to rest your broken and bent needles and pins, or visit the shrine we have created here at Opendrawer on Saturday 8th February so that you may respectfully lay your needles to rest and give thanks for their work.
Bring your broken and bent pins, needles, sewing machine needles or even felting needles to our shrine between 10am and 1pm this Saturday. If you come early you may exchange your worn out needles and pins for new ones in a small Japanese style needlecase which we have made in celebration of this lovely tradition which is new to us.