Hari Kuyo

Next Tuesday, on February 8, Japanese needleworkers will lay their broken pins and needles to rest during Hari Kuyo.

Stitching for Literacy, Hari-Kuyo, broken needle festival
Hari Kuyo images courtesy of Arenamontanus / Anders Sandberg.

Hari Kuyo, as I understand it, is a 400-year-old Japanese festival held in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Broken pins and needles are thanked for their work and laid to rest in soft jelly or tofu cakes. Some people believe the tools have souls, and they are treated with care and respect.

On one hand, I’m not much into festivals and celebrations. I am to formalities and crowds what natural dyes are to unnatural fibers: you can put us together, but we don’t combine in a pretty or pleasing way.

On the other hand, I think being grateful for the smallest of things is, well, great. It reminds me that for all my efforts to be self-sufficient, I rely on countless helpful tools which are the result of human experience, ingenuity, and craftsmanship. Maybe celebrating pins and needles and the service they provide reminds us of the many small things we should be thankful for.

Another aspect of Hari Kuyo is the letting go of personal burdens. In Japan–and perhaps everywhere–there are concerns and complaints that women don’t share with men. They are said to share these with their needles, passing the burdens on to them, so that when the needles are put to rest they take the cares, worries, and sadness with them.

Now, who among us can say we don’t release our own cares and woes in our embroidery? It’s no secret that embroidery is relaxing and therapeutic. And I’m pretty sure it’s as effective for men as it is for women.

I’ve got several cakes of tofu in my pantry, but I doubt I’ll actually stick broken pins and needles in any of them. See–there’s me and formality not mixing. What is one supposed to do with needle-laden tofu, exactly?

  • Throw the pins away and eat the tofu? I say cut out the middleman.
  • Throw the tofu and pins away together? Are you kidding me? Even if I were to throw perfectly good tofu out, I’d throw it in the compost pile, and what do you think will happen to the ravens, magpies, and gray jays when they eat needle-spiked tofu?
  • Bury the needle-studded tofu cake? This is Alaska. It’s February. Get real.

I don’t know what I might do on Tuesday to celebrate my broken needles, but I’m taking suggestions. Got any? Is there anything we might do together?

Categories: Needlework

3 replies »

  1. I love the idea that by laying one’s broken needles and pins to rest on a special day of the year the worries and sadness shared with those needles are also laid to rest.

    I know that if something is bothering me I get out my stitching and work through it as I ply needle and thread. The rythmic nature of stitching is like a meditation to me. The calmness and concentration needed to stitch helps break through all the chaos in my brain and helps me to see a clear path to resolution of the problem at hand.

    Now, as to what to do with your prickly tofu cake … I’m afraid I’m with you on that one … why waste perfectly good tofu? A small formal cermony involving the chucking your broken pins and needles into the outside rubbish bin seems like a much better idea to me!

  2. Why not stitch a pin-pillow-graveyard, and stick the broken needles in it? I do not want to put nice needlework in the bin, so a washing up spunge will be a good needle graveyard, if I ever am going to have any…needle seremony, that is. Broken needles I have.

  3. I keep a little clay pot on my stitching table.. my orts go in. When I break a needle (not often) I think – will the birds miss this little amount of thread ends so the needle can have a soft bed.. yep, they would so into the trash the needle goes. With a little sadness because it was used so hard it broke.