This is an article from our Patreon (written on December, 2020), and intending to share more information about a style of Hari Kuyou – that I introduce on Instagram. I made this article public for limited time so that anyone can share, learn, and appreciate the unique cultural perspective of Sashiko & related rituals in Japan. If you can affor $5.00 per month, your support will be a good help for me to keep writing/sharing this type of Story. (For those who already support me on Patreon, I really appreciate your understanding of sharing this article outside of the Patreon).
December 8th and February 8th is the day called “Koto Youka (事八日）”. For stitchers like us who use needles ordinarily, it is the day to appreciate the needles even more than usual. It is the day of Hari Kuyou – a requiem service for broken/unusable needles.
I once explained about the Hari Kuyou and Koto Youka in the Sashiko Journey #55 on Patreon. However, I didn’t break it down to a process “How to do Hari Kuyou” in our days. So, I would like to introduce how the Japanese would service the Hari Kuyou, and how I would honor the service outside of Japan.
Pray for the needle with appreciation
The most ordinary way to honor the Hari Kuyou Service is bringing the broken/unusable needles to the shrine. Many shrines, including the big famous one & local small one, shall offer the Hari Kuyou memorials on December 8th and/or February 8th. (It depends on where the shrine locates – In general, Feb.8th for the east part of Japan, and December 8th for the west part of Japan.)
When you visit the shrine on Hari Kuyou day, you will find a big “Tofu” with many broken needles on it. That’s how we farewell the needles. We pray for the needle with sincere appreciation for the hard work the needle had done for us. The needle will be buried to “mound” after a Shinto priest performs appropriate purification.
There is no strict style to follow. We visit the shrine, stick the needle on the Tofu, and pray with puting the palms together.
*For the photo of a big “Tofu” with needles sticked, lease search online with this Japanese character, “針供養”.
Let the needle Rest after all hard work
The whole point of the service is to let the needle rest after all of their hard work. The needle became unusable or broken because we used the needle heavily, intensively, and/or on the thick fabric. They worked so hard for us. At the end of the needle’s life, we stitch the needle to something very “soft” and pray for their rest in peace.
It seems like the “Tofu” is a common materials for the softness. However, it doesn’t have to be Tofu. In some regions, people used “Mochi (Sticky Rice Cake)” or “Konnyaku (konjac jelly?)”. Some think that using food is “wasting”, so they use a piece of “sponge” to honor the service.
I understand “what kind of soft materials we use for Hari Kuyou” is pretty flexible as long as the needle can rest in a soft material.
I have heard that we can find documents that the Japanese practiced this Hari Kuyou as early as the 9th century. It is more than 1,100 years ago. That’s how long we have been appreciating the needle. Stitching (not only Sashiko but also any kinds of stitching in Japan) was something more than just stitching for the Japanese people.
Not “Recycle” so much. More of “Reincarnation”
I understand that some understand this service as the “recycle custom” – how to recycle the needle instead of just throwing them away – because disposing the needle is kind of dangerous and unfriendly to the environment.
However, the service itself is not so much about “recycle” as we think today (environmentally). It is more like “Reincarnation” for the spirit within the needles.
The needles we bring to the shrine will be buried in the “Needle mount” designated in the shrine. How about the rest of us who don’t have the shrine that take care of it nearby?
In the past, the Japanese chose several ways to “farewell” the needle. It all depends on the regions but following the similar steps.
First, they all appreciate the needle and put them in something soft.
Second, if they have a Kamidana (a household Shinto altar) in their house, they would pray for the needle by putting the needles on something soft in front of Kamidana. With sharing the appreciation to the needle in front of “Gods”, it serves a purpose of purification.
Then, they chose a way to “say good-bye” by…
- Bury it in the ground
- Flow it in the river
- Drop it in the sea
In today’s society, for environmental reasons, I do not know if we flow it in the river or drop it in the sea. They may bury it (needle & something soft) under the ground if it is their personal property. However, since we have much better transportation structure (like public transportation and our own cars), it is more popular to visit the shrine for the best service for Hari Kuyou.
How about in the U.S.?
How about those who lives outside of Japan, like Atsushi who lives in the U.S. then?
Well… I do not have a Kamidana in my house. There are no shrines in the driving distance. Therefore, I perform the service by myself.
I put the needles on a small piece of Tofu.
I tell the needle my appreciation for going into meditative status.
Then, I bury it wrapped with an old (yet white) cloth to the ground of my yard (where my daughter will not play with digging like our kitchen garden.
A style is important, of course.
However, here, the day (moment) of appreciating the needle is the most important part of this Hari Kuyou, I believe.
Needles work for us, to make it happen
We use needles every day without doubt. The needle enables us to talk to the fabric throughout stitching. Have you ever felt that the needle is kind of in a bad mood? The needle is an inorganic substance. However, we believe that a spirit existed in it, and the spirit often reflects who we are on that day. Isn’t it interesting? The more we think about it, the more I believe that there is actually “spirit” in all of the things.
Needles work for us a lot.
Without the needles, our work will not be achievable.
Therefore, we appreciate the people/spirit who makes the needle, who use the needle, and the needle themselves.
Some Japanese people do not hold the needle on the day of Hari Kuyou no matter how “busy” their schedules are. It is a day to appreciate the needle. Therefore, I keep sharing, Sashiko (thread, fabric, thimble, needle and many more) is much more than just words.
Thank you for your support.
Report on Hari Kuyou
I also share a report on Hari Kuyou from my friend. I hope this will help you to experience & learn What Hari Kuyou is for us.