Well. Don’t freak out by the title of “Sashiko and Animism”. It is still the website to introduce Sashiko.
I do not want to talk about specific religions here. However, the more I try to explain what Sashiko really is in English, the more I feel in need to learn about the Japanese culture on its beliefs. The Japanese believed that Yaoyorozu no Kami (八百万の神 – Eight million deities) reside in Shinrabansho (森羅万象 – all things in nature, the whole of creation). It is a part of Shinto, and I also feel very comfortable with this belief since I was raised in this concept. This Shinto concept is pretty similar to Animism (Not the same, though), so I am writing this article about Sashiko and Animism.
Sashiko isn’t merely a stitching after all
I believe that “Sashiko” is not only a product with hand-stitchings, but it is also the process of appreciating the fabric by mending, repairing, strengthening, and decorating. It is as simple as just lines of hand stitches. However, the people put thoughts into the stitching. In fact, it is almost impossible to NOT to put thoughts into it over several hours, sometimes several days and months of Sashiko stitching.
Have you compared the 2 individual Sashiko works done by hand and machine? They are different by look, but even more, they are completely different by something we cannot explain well. As you can imagine, a Sashiko sewing machine can make more even stitches than hand stitching. If the beauty of Sashiko is defined by the size of stitching, a machine would make the better Sashiko work. However, almost everyone thinks that the Sashiko work made by hand have better look before the explanation.
They are different by look, but even more, they are completely different by something we don’t explain well. As you can imagine, a Sashiko sewing machine can make more even stitches than hand stitching. If the beauty of Sashiko is defined by the size of stitching, a machine would make the better Sashiko work. However, almost everyone thinks that the Sashiko work made by hand have better look before the explanation. The beauty in imperfection? Yes, possible. However, I cannot stop thinking there is more of logics we can think of.
Therefore, I would like to link Sashiko to the concept of Animism a little bit. It was a bit challenging to relate Sashiko and Animism. However, the more I research about the link, I feel like I was supposed to write this article before investing my time to promote what Sashiko is. The concept of Sashiko and Animism can be the core of my activities.
Again I am not talking about the specific religion. I am talking about the power of our thoughts.
Sashiko and Animism
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the Animism’s definition is:
the belief that all natural things, such as plants, animals, rocks, and thunder, have spirits and can influence human events
(http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/animism) / No formal connection to Sashiko and Animism
This definition is very similar to Shinto the Japanese believed in a long time ago.
Sashiko’s origin comes from poverty and poor infrastructure. The Japanese couldn’t get enough materials to make the new clothes, and therefore they used the same fabric over and over. In the process of repairing, however, I do not think the Japanese were miserable about repairing their fabrics. Everyone around them did the same thing. The poor infrastructure means everyone in the area, except those who are exceptionally rich, had to go through the same lifestyle. They shared the same culture and life customs.
Instead of feeling miserable, Sashiko stitchers thought of the family or friends who would wear the fabric and clothes like husband and children. A husband working hard outside to provide the family, children keep helping the house chores. I believe the people thought of their family’s happiness when they stitched. These thoughts and love create the better Sashiko pieces. Boro is the ultimate sample of these thoughts. There is a spirit in a Sashiko work after repeatedly stitched, mended, repaired and patchworked.
*Although we value Boro as the art piece in the 21st century, there is a history that the Japanese felt shame on having Boros in their house because Boro & Patchworked indicated the poorness of the family. Regardless, I believed that the people thoughts of their family when they made Sashiko stitching.
No matter how poor the human is, the human never gives up on fashion. I believe the clothes and fashion is one of the biggest factors to differentiate human from animals.
Power of Thoughts we have
When I receive a piece of Sashiko work from my mother, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya, I always feel nostalgia. It could be because I was born in the Sashiko fabric & Sashiko family. At the same time, I feel, it is because she is making Sashiko works to surprise me. She always asks my opinion when she starts the new Sashiko project. I feel like every time she try to complete the project, her goal is to impress me.
Thinking of someone is a strong process in the concept of Animism. If a piece of fabric has a soul in it, the warm thoughts to wish someone’s well-being can make the soul more embraced. In different religion, the thoughts would be renamed to “pray”, “grace”, “worship” and so on. (You may know about this better.)
Some of my workshop participants left a great comment (kind of as a testimony) after trying our Boro-Jacket on. They said that they feel someone is protecting them by wearing it. I believe it is not exaggerating description of Power of Thoughts.
I don’t want you to be scared of me saying Sashiko and Animism. It isn’t about religion at all. It is about the care we can put into the fabric. An appreciation to something we have already.
Isn’t it what we need in this world now?
On top of Sashiko and Animism, here is the reason I came to write this article. A bit of my history until today.
I wasn’t ready until I experience difficulty in my life
When I was a child with Sashiko around me, I simply didn’t like the idea someone can decide my life; that I had to take over the family business. I didn’t like Sashiko.
When my father asked me to join the family business for restructuring the business to somewhat viable for employees and stuff, I focused on numbers. Sashiko was a form of merchandise and the values of Sashiko were purely calculated by the profit margin.
After March 2011, the big earthquake in Northeast Japan, I learned that Sashiko can help people throughout supporting the Sashiko project in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture. The practice of Sashiko can encourage, motivate, and even energize the people’s life. Ever since I discovered that Sashiko becomes more than a business or family tradition. I strongly believed that passing the culture of Sashiko down to the next generation is my lifetime mission. Until my father, unfortunately, passed away in 2013.
Once other stakeholders of company kicked us out from the company, I understood moving on to my new life without Sashiko would be my fate. I moved to the US, where my wife worked and became a stay at home father (homemaker). Honestly, I am very happy to be a father of beautiful child Leona. As the result, I moved on from Sashiko. I thought I would never see Sashiko. Sashiko brings too many good and bad memories.
In summer 2014, my mother asked me if I would be willing to help her to start a Sashiko project. Unlike me trying to get a new life without Sashiko, my mother couldn’t live a life without Sashiko. She wanted to make Sashiko artworks, but her financial situation didn’t allow her to purchase vintage fabric or invest into Natural Dye Sashiko Thread. As long as we ran a project a business, she could have enough money to keep making what she wants. Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya started as the way to encourage Keiko to enjoy making Sashiko artworks financially and emotionally. She loves doing Sashiko for someone who she cares, and someone who she hopes to meet in future.
A little bit of care is what we need now, isn’t it?
And I believe that it is what we need in this work now. A little bit of care, each other.
Speed is very important to be successful in this society. Everything goes very fast. Fast food, fast fashion, everything seems to be, supposed to be Fast. When you wear a cloth, you would not know “who” made it. You would know the brand, but you would not see who designed it. In fast fashion, mass-produced and mass consumption world, the person who tailored your cloth wouldn’t know who would wear.
I just want to change it a bit.
You do not have to know who made what you wear. However, I want you to know that the person who made your jacket cared the person who would be wearing it. They put a lot of good thoughts into it. I am not talking about us being positive all the time. We do make Sashiko when we feel grumpy. Even grumpiness is a form of thoughts. The importance here is a soul existing in the fabric and it reacts to these thoughts. Any kinds of reaction would be good because it will make us feel a lot more “being-cared”.
I believe the antonym of Love is not Hate. When you hate someone, you put thoughts into him/her. You still care of him/her so you hate. I believe “Ignorance” is the opposite word of Love. When you don’t care for the person, you do not love him/her at all.
We want to spread the culture to appreciate what you have and what you will have, with forming a little bit of care. And this is the reason I would like to spread Sashiko. Why don’t you spend a little time of 30 minutes to mend, repair, or decorate a fabric that your loving one may use in the future? The 30 minutes you would spend with caring the person is exactly Sashiko and the culture I would like to introduce to the world.