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-stitching, 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 (accuracy) of stitching, a machine would make the better Sashiko work. However, almost everyone thinks that the Sashiko works made by hands look better even before which is done by hands or by a machine.
Am I talking about the beauty of imperfection? Yes, somewhat, but more than that. I cannot stop thinking that there may be the better explanation that I can provide in English.
Therefore, I would like to link Sashiko to the concept of Animism a little bit. It is a bit challenging to relate Sashiko and Animism in my second language. However, the more I research about the relationship between Sashiko and Animism, 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, which are sharing Sashiko to the world.
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
(https://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. (And some of the Japanese currently follow Shinto.)
Sashiko’s origin comes from the poverty and the poor infrastructure and transportation. 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 felt miserable about repairing their fabrics. Most of residents in a community did the same thing: Repairing and mending. 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 the life customs.
Instead of feeling miserable, Sashiko stitchers thought of the family or friends who would wear the fabric and clothes, like the husband and the children. A husband working hard outside to provide the family, children keeping helping the house chores. That’s what normal it was back then.
I believe the people thought of their family’s happiness when they stitched. These thoughts and the 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 works from my mother, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya, I always feel nostalgia. It could be because I was born in the 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 tries 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 for 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 (to do Sashiko) until I experience the difficulty in my life
When I was a child with Sashiko around me, I simply didn’t like the idea someone would decide my life; that I had to take over the family business & traditions. I didn’t like Sashiko.
When my father asked me to join the family business for restructuring the business-model 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 day of 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 a family tradition. I strongly believed that passing the culture of Sashiko down to the next generation is my life mission. I worked hard to protect the family business with believing it was the only way to acheive my mission.
…Until my father, unfortunately, passed away in 2013. He was a key piece to hold everyone with different opinions, together.
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 I 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 away 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.
I thought, 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 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.
After all, the difference of our opinion was simple. The business wants to keep Sashiko alive, and they care who protect Sashiko. My mother and I don’t really care who pass down the Sashiko as long as the concept of Sashiko remains in this world. The family business believes that they have to hide the Sashiko from the public to protect Sashiko. My mother and I believe that we need to share the Sashiko to pass it down.
A little bit of care is what we need now, isn’t it?
I am sorry. It was a bit detour from the main topic of Sashiko and Animism. However, what I would like to share here is that Sashiko and other hand-crafting culture all over the world are based on the concept of “Care”. When a person go though many events in his/her life, he/she finds that the most important factor of life is “the care”.
And. I believe that it is what we need in this work now. A little bit of care, each other, here and there.
“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 created the design with thinking what. 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. Just 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 about 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.
This is not a good conclusion for the topic of Sashiko and Animism. However, it is my most pleasure if you could get a sense of what we are trying to do.
17 thoughts to “Sashiko and Animism | Power of thoughts”
I love what you have wriiten here.
Thank you, Jan.
I am happy to share what I love about Sashiko, and why I do Sashiko.
This is beautiful beyond words. I just happen to stumble upon your site after searching Sashiko to see what it was. I knew it involved “stitching “, but all the posts I have here on Upcycle are absolutely touching. I have already visited your Mothers site as well. I can not wait to learn this beautiful tradition.
I lived in Japan for many years and I understand what you are trying to say. I believe you are putting the spirit of what you stitch into the cloth when you are thinking about who will be wearing it. I love sashiko and boro and actually use them to mend both my husband’s and my work clothes. We are farmers in the US.
Thank you for the comment. It is challenging to explain what we have developed naturally throughout our life verbally. I am glad that I somehow could communicate it. Enjoy Sashiko!
Hello! I enjoyed your writing on sashiko. I have recently learned of it and have been working on a piece of blue cloth. I have you’re beliefs as well. I knit, crochet,embroider, see and have taught History of the Needlearts in college. I love the art of making fabrics for wear or cuddle to cuddle in! Love and care is what we all need! Thank You!
Thank you for the comment.
Although Sashiko is a culture developed in Japan, there are many other traditions and customs very similar to Sashiko from all over the world. It is the humans’ nature we kind of forget now. I am happy to be part of this appreciative movement. Thank you 😀
Dear Mr. Futatsuya,
I am very moved by your reflections on Sashiko and the spirit of all things, including what we make for those we love. I have long been a hand knitter and love to make soft sweaters and hats for my family. I have made a small table cloth and tea pot cozy using printed sashiko fabric kits, but did not know before now the deep intention and love that is part of the sashiko tradition. I am wait-listed for the class you will be giving at Loop of the Loom in New York this August, and hope that I will be accepted to join the group. If not, I will wait to find another workshop you will give, or maybe take the online class you offer. I am inspired by your effort to keep the meaning and importance of sashiko tradition alive, and I look forward to learning from you!
I am so sorry for not being able to make a reply sooner. I cannot believe I missed your comment. Thank you very much for your respect for the Japanese Sashiko and your action. I hope you had a good time at Loop of the Loom. It is indeed my wish to share what Sashiko is – just an embroidery yet more than just stitching.
I appreciate your understanding. Thanks to your support, the Sashiko will be alive.
Keep in touch.
I will keep sharing my insight.
Thank you for this wonderful explanation on Sashiko. I have seen it over the years and just thought of it just as embroidery. I started doing boro stitching on my jeans and on other things. When I do it, I am relaxed and at peace. After reading your article on Sashiko and Animisim, I feel it has given me more understanding of Japanese culture and the respect in its meaning. I hope I am conveying what I truly feel about this new way of stitching for me. I do understand about cultural appropriation, being an African-American and seeing how it in everyday life.
Thank you for the comment.
It is my main motivation to share what the Sashiko is – just simple stitching but more than stitching. I will keep sharing my insights here and there. One day, we will be perfectly okay with who we are (not only what we do).
Please come back to this website again.
Thank you for this writing on Sashiko and Animism/Shinto. I resonate with the idea that fabric has a soul, and the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the person become a part of the fabric. The attention, care, love, and respect are in every stitch. I believe that energy can be seen and felt, just as the students who felt protected when they wore the Boro jacket. I want to cultivate that attitude in every aspect of my life. Thank you for helping me to come to a little bit deeper level of understanding.
Thank you for your comment & I apologize for the late reply.
I am happy that you liked my interpretation of Sashiko & Animism.
I share more stories periodically on Instagram (@Sashi.Co), and more detail & honest stories on Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/sashiko).
I hope I can keep sharing the stories here and there.
Mahalo for writing this. I am very interested in sashiko and this post made me even more interested. Thank you to you and your Mom for continuing this beautiful tradition and way of life. This post made me feel cared for, just like sashiko. Have a beautiful weekend ❤️