Airdate: Feb 06, 1998
Scientist: Prf. Stuart D. B. Picken
HARIKUYO: History and Observance
Harikuyo is a memorial service for the broken sewing needles of the past year, celebrated in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples across Japan.
Across Japan, in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, February 8th marks the annual observance of Harikuyo, the Festival of Broken Needles. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
The Festival of Broken Needles is a ritual of thanks and respect for the tools of the sewing trade. It originated about four hundred years ago, in Japan's Edo period. Professor Stuart Picken of the International Christian University in Tokyo explains that one day a year, on Harikuyo, the seamstresses and tailors gather together all of the needles they've used and worn out during the previous year.
"So traditionally, they made a kind of paste out of tofu, that's bean curd, and the needles were then inserted into that, to be taken to a place where they would be put to rest."
"As I understand it, these things are kept in a kind of sacred place and the needle is not forgotten. It's gone because it's in the tofu and it will be put where it can do no harm. But it's still in some sense present."
Harikuyo generally takes place in a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple, where a priest is invited to offer a blessing over the needles. Right now, we're listening to a recording made in Tokyo's Asakusa temple.
"Well, the priest is incanting a sutra which reflects the passage of the needles from usage and invoking some kind of Buddhist blessing which would then be passed on to the ladies themselves. Because as they show respect to the needles of last year, they're really saying to them, you know, 'Thank you very much for what you've done, and please give us your power and your energy for the coming year so that our sewing skills can become improved.'"
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.