Hari-Kuyo: Festival of the Broken Needles

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festival of the broken needles

尊貴な母親やと針の感謝の日 in APPreCiAtion of needles & noble MotHers


HARI-KUYO: FESTIVAL OF THE BROKEN NEEDLES A Graphic Design lll Project. Special Thanks to Prof. Cindy Wang Copyright Š 2010 by Audrey Yang All rights reserved. Printed in Singapore. ISBN 917-1-10-4694766-2

序 言

About Hari-Kuyo ‘Hari-kuyo’ is a Japanese festival where people pay tribute to the old and broken needles that had served them for the past year. And at the same time, pray for better sewing skills for the following year. ‘Hari’ means needles and ‘Kuyo’ means a memorial service.


About 序 言





目 次


二 月 八 日


意 義



神 道

価 値 観





This book introduces the festival of broken needles in a new light, Together, lets look beyond its surface and behold the greater meaning of Hari-kuyo.

母 性


08/ 02

二 月 八 日

on this date:

女の人 浅草寺 Women, dressed in kimono, will gather together all the needles they have used or broken during the previous year and proceed to the shrine where the needles are taken to a sacred final resting place. 4

the Ritual 06:00 They start by worshipping the Sea Gods. They then stick the needles upright in a block of tofu or konnyaku (糸蒟蒻: edible jelly made from plant-based flour). The soft texture of the tofu is believed to soothe the needles after their labour of going through the thick fabric, effectively wrapping them with tenderness. Also, being in the tofu means the needles are protected and can do no harm with their points. The priest will then incant a sutra that reflects the passage of the needles from use, and offers a blessing that is passed on to the users of the needles.

By showing respect to the needles, the users give thanks and request that the power and energy of the needles be present in them for the coming year so that their skills may be improved. No sewing takes place on this day.


Shinto is a set of beliefs and practices that most Japanese keep to today. Shinto meaning ‘Way of the Gods’ was adopted from the written Chinese (神道, shén dào), where 神 (Kami) in kanji means ‘spirits’, ‘essences’ that are human-like, animistic or among the natural forces (mountains, rivers, trees etc.),and 道 means a philosophical path or study.

神道 Shinto: Way of The Gods

The creation myth of Shinto is recorded in the ca. 712 Kojiki. Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and Izanami-no-Mikoto (female) were called by all the myriad gods and asked to help each other to create a new land which was to become Japan. They were given a spear with which they stirred the water, and when removed water dripped from the end, an island was created in the great nothingness. They lived on this island, and performed rituals when they wanted offspring (islands). The first island turned out badly and was thought to have been done incorrectly. They repeated the ritual but according to the correct laws of nature, the male spoke first. They then gave birth to the 8 perfect islands of the Japanese archipelago. After the islands, they gave birth to the other Kami, Izanami-noMikoto dies and Izanagi-no-Mikoto tries to revive her. His attempts to deny the laws of life and death have bad consequences.


イ イ ザ ザ ナ ナ ミ ギ ー ー ノ ノ ー ー ミ ミ コ コ ト ト

The Japanese islands are to be considered a paradise as they were directly created by the gods for the Japanese people. Shinto is the fundamental connection between the power and beauty of nature (the land) and the Japanese people. It is the manifestation of a path to understanding the institution of divine power. Shinto teaches that everything contains a Kami (神, “spiritual essence”) and honours all of nature.

日 本 文 化

As beliefs shape culture, the Japanese have an enormous respect for objects in their daily life.

Cloth ghost

Paper lantern ghost

Sandal ghost

Umbrella ghost

Tsu kum oga mi

傘 お 化 け

化 け 草 履

提 灯 お 化 け

一 反 木 綿

It is believed that tools and utensils, if used roughly, would turn into monsters that would come to attack people a hundred years later. These ‘monsters’ are referred to as the Tsukumogami or “artifact spirit”. According to the Tsukumogami-emaki, these spirits come from objects that have reached their hundredth birthday and would come alive. Any object of this age can become a Tsukumogami. Though Tsukumogami are harmless, they do have the capacity for anger to band together to take revenge on those who are wasteful, or throw things away thoughtlessly. To prevent this from happening, rituals are thus performed as a proper procedure of putting this to rest.

䞥 値 茳

Values The basic values from this Hari-kuyo festival, or more greatly, the Shinto beliefs itself, is to not be wasteful. It is considered disrespectful to throw things away without thinking twice. Also, there is this idea of treating things with care, which today, most people do not. Consumerism has consumed the current generation, making us slaves. We buy and replace, switch gadgets within months, and do not treasure these things. Not less say build a relationship with them. Nature is also often sacrificed as the world improves. People innovate, profit and advance with less consideration of the environment. Shinto honours all nature and teaches that everything has a Kami, as close to a person having feelings, thus the practice of treating all things and beings with care.



意 義

On a larger scale, this is a festival for women. Women are the ones who sew into the wee hours, pricking their fingers and breaking countless needles. These needle crafters spend a huge amount of time with the needles such that it has become their ‘soulmate’. 18

As the needle becomes worn out, it signifies that this ‘soulmate’ has to go, and that results in a ritual in the Harikuyo festival, to let the needles take its final rest, in peace. At the same time, these women pray for the power in the needles to be given to them so they could perform better the following year. As they bid their ‘soulmates’ goodbye, they console themselves of the secret grievances in an attempt to let them go with the needles, all in the hope of becoming a ‘true mother’. In Japanese culture, a ‘true mother’ is one who has suffered enormous hardship, has the ability to empathize, and displays her feminism and virtuosity through appreciation of art and the ability to take care of things in the household. The skill of sewing has been a requirement of virtuous women since a long time ago, it is a yardstick to judge a woman’s worth. Sewing is no easy task. It takes patience, discipline, determination, perseverance… Most importantly, it cultivates one’s inner temperament. Thus, the greater meaning of this festival is cultivating oneself so as to become a noble mother.

母 性

they pray for these three things . 21

1. Rest 安息; 供養 As a true Japanese mother, one needs to be responsible of all things in the household. Praying for safety of one’s family members is a normal act of concern. Also, retaining the culture of Japanese beliefs, they pray to put the objects to rest properly, at the same time pacify ‘the dead’. By correctly remembering the dead, they console the item’s passing and also keep them from troubling the world (and hence their family).

2. Improvement 求上進; 進境 Sewing was a skill required of Japanese women since a long time ago. They had pre-marital contraints. Some girls do not try hard in Math and Science because they are told all the time that they are not good at them. Pre-war, the curriculum in Girls’ High School was distinctively oriented towards the cultivation of qualified brides and mothers. They learnt domestic skills (such as sewing, cooking) as well as manners and etiquette. The schools’ system was like a ‘bridal school’. The girls were generally motivated to learn sewing but were also pushed by their mothers as it was inherent in womanhood. Hence till today, the women who sew truely believe in the importance of sewing as part of their development of being a true mother, and would pray sincerely for their improvement in this vital skill.

3. Console 安慰; 慰める When a mother is favourably recalled, usually she has suffered from enormous hardship (e.g. widowed early). Those mothers who are continued to be protected and indulged by her parents are called ‘disqualified’ mothers as they are having a too easy life. In order to attain true motherhood, one has to experience hardship so as to have genuine empathy for others (especially for her husband and children). Hence, they are not expected to complain and stop work. These women keep their sorrows and grievnaces to themselves as they sew to the wee hours of the night, turning the needles into their ‘soulmates’. As they let go of their old and worthy broken needles, it is also time for them to let go of whatever sadness they have encountered the previous year.

針 供 養 の 祝 い . 母 性 の 祝 い

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