Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hari-Kuyo: Honoring Old and Broken Needles

Sending old sewing needles and pins to a sweet grave

Ever since I heard about the 400-year-old Japanese festival of  Hari-Kuyo, I have been waiting all year to celebrate. Every year on February 8, Japanese women bring old sewing needles and pins to Buddhist and Shinto shrines and stick them into soft chunks of tofu or jelly to honor them, show gratitude for their hard work, and acknowledge that even the smallest, most ordinary objects have a soul. Burying the needles in tofu or jelly symbolizes rest for the needles, wrapping them in soft tenderness. The festival is also about the sorrows the women experienced and passed on to their needles through many hours of sewing, and about putting those sorrows to rest.

All in all, an absolutely lovely idea. I used a small, antique Jello mold to create a soft, sweet bed for my needles. However, I realized as I was searching through pin cushions and sewing boxes for old worn needles worthy of this honor that I had thoughtlessly tossed out bent pins or dull needles on more than one occasion in the past year. I need a way to save old needles on an ongoing basis, in preparation for the annual Hari-Kuyo celebration.

Resting reliquary for old needles

I stitched a little cloth reliquary that may be worn as a seamstress necklace. As needles dull or pins turn wayward, the reliquary provides a place to store them until the next Hari-Kuyo festival. The interior cloth is silk from a very old temple sari; the exterior is a scrap of black cotton cloth.


One side of the reliquary is stitched with the Japanese symbols for "used." The other side is stitched with the symbols for "old."


Seamstress reliquary necklace

Now none of my needles or pins need ever suffer any anxiety about their future. Happy Hari-Kuyo to all, and to all a good night.

* Postscript: You may be wondering what happens after the Jello or tofu stage. In Japan, the soft substance with needles embedded is wrapped in paper and then placed in water, presumably sending the needles to a watery grave. This doesn't sound entirely ecologically correct 400 years down the road, so I am still trying to figure this out. Meanwhile I may place the needles in the reliquary or in a miniature funerary vase where they can anticipate their sweet immersion in Jello once again next year.

1 comment:

  1. I like this idea. I'm inclined to bury them but it could be nasty to accidently run across them later. maybe push them into a tree?


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