TOKYO Kimono-makers laid their old needles to
rest during the "hari-kuyo" needle festival at Buddhist temples
all over Japan on Thursday, sticking them into soft chunks of
tofu bean curd to thank them for their hard work.
Japan's throwaway culture can rival that of any Western
country, but at the Sensoji temple in central Tokyo, dozens of
women in jewel-coloured kimonos honoured their broken tools
with the 400-year-old rite.
"I came here to say thank you," said Keiko Kurukata, a
73-year-old kimono-maker surrounded by her four apprentices.
"We prayed to improve our kimono-making skills," one of the
Women crowded around a big slab of tofu spiked with a
multitude of colourful pins in front of the temple, purifying
themselves with incense, praying and carefully adding their own
needles as a group of monks chanted in the background.
Hari-kuyo is one of the many festivals where animist
beliefs rooted in Japan's Shinto religion merge with Buddhist
"It's the end of the (Japanese) new year celebrations and
the real work is about to start, including farming, so on this
day you don't do any household chores such as needlework, and
that's the origin of the festival," said Ryojo Shioiri, a monk
at the temple.
Sticking the broken needles into soft materials such as
tofu or jelly is a way of thanking them, reflecting the Shinto
belief that all living beings and objects have a soul and
"Sometimes there are painful things and secrets that women
can't tell men, and they put these secrets into the pins and
ask the gods to get rid of them," he added.
While many Japanese women still don kimonos for festivals,
concerts or other special occasions, the elaborate gowns have
become less popular over the years, and interest in needlework
and traditional tailoring has dwindled.
"I've been coming here for 20 years, but it used to be much
bigger," 58-year-old kimono-maker Toshie Tanioka told Reuters.
"Now there are fewer people. The old ones retire and the
young ones are not interested in the festival because they're
not interested in kimono-making. It's too painstaking and they
prefer Western clothes."
Showing off her elegant black dotted kimono and elaborately
embroidered belt, she said her main reason for becoming a
tailor was wanting to make her own kimonos.
Some newcomers were eager to continue the tradition.
Standing in a cloud of incense, Hiroko Saito, a 30-year-old
apprentice who works in a cafe to fund her passion for
kimono-making, said her dream was to become a full-time tailor.
Asked how many needles she had broken during her studies
over the past year, she laughed and said: "Many, many."
(Additional reporting by Hiroyuki Muramoto)