In doing the research that we did for the book, we came across this seemingly antiquated, yet enchanting 400-year-0ld Japanese tradition with roots in Buddhism. I can not pretend to truly understand this tradition, but I believe in the underlying ideas of being thankful for my work, and for the tools that I worked hard to achieve my goals. I think that taking time to pause, reflect and look forward towards another year of thoughtful and improved stitching recognizes the value of humility and the sense that I can not do anything completely alone. I need these small needles and I am thankful for them. They have earned their rest.
In the Hari-Kuyo ceremony, Japanese women gather once a year on Febuary 8th at Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples to thank their worn out needles and pins for good service.
It is also a time to value the small, everyday objects of daily living and to wish for progress in one’s needle work. In what is known as the Festival of Broken Needles, women gather to offer a funeral-type service by laying the needles to rest in soft jelly cakes or tofu. This burial is meant to bring rest to the needles and wrap them with tenderness and gratitude. This practice reflects the animist belief that all beings and objects have a soul.
Further to the idea of laying the needles to rest for good service is the idea that women have many secret sorrows in life. These sorrows are often passed to the needles during long hours of stitching and the needles are thought to take on the burden of some of these sorrows, thus taking them away with the stitching that they do. This “rest” is brought to the needles in appreciation for their faithful service.
Another aspect of the ceremony is the consideration for “the value of small things.” The concept of Mottainai, or not being wasteful, is related to the usefulness of the needles. These small but important tools would give long, useful service throughout the year. They were not to be lost or wasted nor carelessly replaced.
Every effort has been made to be sure that this information is accurate. Any inaccuracies or ommissions are the fault of this author, but are respectfully offered for correction.
1. Hari-kuyo, by David Boyd for the Japan Foundation, http://www.jpf.org.au/omusubi/hitokuchimemo/issue7.html
2. Hiromi Asai, blog. Beauty of Kimono, entry 2-08-09 Needle Mass: Hari-Kuyo, http://www.kimonohiro.com/2009/02/needle-mass-hari-kuyo.html
3. Hardach, Sophie. Japanese Tailor’s Needles Find Soft Grave in Tofu. Reuter’s U.K. http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKT33020120070208
4. Matsushita, Tei, blog. Matsushita, entry 3-14-91: Hari-kuyo www.matsushita.com/ 1991/03/hari-kuyo.html
5. Jacob, Ed, blog. Quirky Japan Blog, entry 2-15-09: Hari-Kuyo Pin Festival http://qjphotos.wordpress.com/2009/02/15/hari-kuyo-pin-festival/
6. Kestenbaum, David. Website: NPR, entry 2-07-10: Mottainai Grandma Reminds Japan “Don’t Waste” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14054262
Late addition (2/9/10):