Hari-Kuyo (Service for Broken Needles)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Shinto)
Date of Observation: February 8 or December 8
Where Celebrated: Japan
Symbols and Customs: Konnyaku, Needles


Hari-Kuyo is part of the Shinto religious tradition. Shinto is an ancient religion that originated in Japan. Most Shinto adherents live in Japan, but small communities also exist in Europe, Latin America, North America, and in the Pacific island nations. Hari-Kuyo

The name Shinto was first employed during the sixth century C . E . to differentiate indigenous religions in Japan from faith systems that originated in mainland Asia (primarily Buddhism and Confucianism). The word is derived from two Chinese characters, shen (gods) and tao (way). Loosely translated, Shinto means "way of the gods." Its roots lie in an ancient nature-based religion. Some important concepts in Shinto include the value of tradition, the reverence of nature, cleanliness (ritual purity), and the veneration of spirits called kami. Strictly speaking, kami are not deities. The literal translation of the word kami is "that which is hidden."

Kami (which is both the singular and plural term) are honored, but do not assert their powers upon humans in the traditional manner of deities or gods in other religions. People may be descended from the kami, and kami may influence the course of nature and events. The kami can bestow blessings, but they are not all benign. Kami are present in natural things such as trees, mountains, rocks, and rivers. They are embodied in religious relics, especially mirrors and jewels. They also include spirits of ancestors, local deities, holy people, and even political or literary figures. The human role is to venerate the kami and make offerings. The ultimate goal of Shinto is to uphold the harmony among humans and between people and nature. In this regard, the principle of all kami is to protect and sustain life.

The central authorities in Shinto are the priests. Traditionally the duties of the priest were passed through heredity lines, but in modern times, priests are trained on the basis of recommendation. The priests' duties include communicating with the kami and ensuring that ceremonies are properly carried out. Shinto does not have a single collection of sacred texts analogous to the Christian Bible or Islamic Qur'an. Instead, several important books provide information and guidance: Koji- ki (Records of Ancient Events), Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), and Engishiki (Chronicles of the Engi).

Central to Shinto is the belief that all things-living and nonliving-possess a spirit or anima. One of the reasons why Buddhism flourished when it came to Japan in the sixth century is that it was able to accommodate this and other Shinto traditions within its own, more formal religious structure. Today, evidence of the Shinto influence on Japanese Buddhism can be seen in the ritual event known as HariKuyo, which pays tribute to the spirit that resides in ordinary sewing NEEDLES .

Also known as the Service for Broken Needles or Broken Needles Festival, HariKuyo has been traced back to the Heian Period (794-1185 C . E .) and was at its most popular during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Today it is observed not only by those who sew for a living, such as tailors and kimono-makers, but by ordinary homemakers, home economics students, and anyone else who sews. While in America bent or broken needles are routinely discarded, in Japan they are carefully put aside and saved for this event, which can take place on either December 8 or February 8, depending on the location. People do not sew on this day but instead bring their worn-out needles to the local temple and stick them into cakes of tofu or KONNYAKU while reciting special prayers to give thanks for the work that the needles have performed. There is a brief Buddhist ceremony, after which the needles are collected in a mound and buried. Conducting what is essentially a memorial service for an inanimate object is not unusual in Japan, where tools and items essential to daily life are treated with the same respect accorded to human beings who have died.

One explanation for this practice lies in a custom practiced by fishermen in what is now the Wakayama Prefecture. Once a year they would take a day off fishing and, in an effort to win the respect and cooperation of the sea god, they would sink their broken fish hooks into the sand at the bottom of the sea.



There are many varieties of konnyaku, which comes from the root of the plant commonly known as devil's tongue. It is related to taro and yam, and it is found only in Japan's more temperate areas. Although many foreigners find konnyaku tasteless, the Japanese prize it as a fat-free, high-fiber snack.

As a typically Japanese food with a smooth, rubbery texture, konnyaku makes an appropriate resting place for the needles brought to the temple for Hari-Kuyo. Soy curd or tofu may also be used. Like konnyaku, they are mild, soothing foods that are believed to comfort and console the departing souls of the broken needles.


In Japan, needlework was at one time regarded as an essential skill that every young woman had to master if she wanted to marry and maintain a home. Although this is no longer the case, needles and needlework remain a symbol of love and marriage, and it is possible that some of the women who participate in the Service for Broken Needles do so in the hope that it will guarantee marital happiness.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Hari-Kuyo


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Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Hari-Kuyo (Festival of Broken Needles)

February 8 or December 8
Hari-Kuyo is a requiem service for needles held throughout Japan. The ceremony of laying needles to rest harkens back to at least the fourth century c.e. Today the services are attended not only by tailors and dressmakers but also by people who sew at home. Traditionally, a shrine is set up in the Shinto style, with a sacred rope and strips of white paper suspended over a three-tiered altar. On the top tier are offerings of cake and fruit, on the second tier there is a pan of tofu, and the bottom tier is for placing scissors and thimbles. The tofu is the important ingredient; people insert their broken or bent needles in it while offering prayers of thanks to the needles for their years of service. In the Buddhist service, special sutras are recited for the repose of the needles. Afterwards, the needles are wrapped in paper and laid to rest in the sea.
A hari-kuyo is held in Kyoto at the Buddhist Temple Horinji on Dec. 8, and in Tokyo one is held at Asakusa Kannon Temple on Feb. 8.
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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.