Category Archives: Embroidery and culture

February 8th is the ‘Festival of Broken Needles’ in Japan

I came across a description of this ritual, which takes place each year in Japan, whilst idly surfing. It is a ritual which takes place in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples each year. I think it’s a lovely idea – it made me think that we should be more aware of how important our sewing tools are to us.

Used and broken needles, inserted into the block of tofu during the ritual

Used and broken needles, inserted into the block of tofu during the ritual

The Festival of Broken Needles is a ritual of thanks, called Harikuyo in Japanese (hari meaning needle, and kuyo meaning a Buddhist memorial service) for the working tools for the sewing, embroidery and tailoring trades. The ritual dates back about 1500 years. Memorial services are usually held for spirits of the dead, but it is also common for services to be held for inanimate objects that have successfully fulfilled their earthly purpose, too.

The stitchers dress in fine kimono and gather all the needles that they’ve used or broken during the past year. As part of the thanksgiving service, they go to the altar in the temple and plunge their old needles into a block of tofu, which is surrounded by a display of sewing accessories and food offerings such as fruit and rice cakes.

The sacred service is to show respect to the needles that the stitchers have used during the past year, to show how thankful they are, and to request that the power and energy of the needles will help the stitchers to improve their skills in the year to come. No sewing takes place on this special day.  

After the service, the slab of tofu and the needles held safely in it are taken to a sacred final resting place.

What a lovely thought!