On February 8th, all across Japan, Harikuyo will take place in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Hari-kuyou is a Japanese religious practice which is said to have started in the Edo era (early 17th century). Hari means noodle, and Kuyou is a Buddhist memorial service. Memorial services are usually held for spirits of the dead but it is also common to hold them for inanimate objects that have served well in life, or indeed that life depends on. There is an old Shinto belief that inanimate objects, as well as living beings, have a soul and spirit. The animists believe that to simply discard a tool that has served you well is disrespectful would anger the object's soul.
Known as the Festival of Broken Needles, it is a ritual of thanks and respect for tools of the sewing, tailoring and embroidery trades. It dates back 1500 years; women (and men) dress in fine kimono and gather together all of the needles they've used, broken and/or and worn out during the previous year. They proceed to the local temple or shrine, where a three-tiered altar is prepared. The lower level displays sewing accessories, such as scissors, thimbles, thread and so forth. The top tier offers seasonal fruit, and white mochi (ceremonial rice cake offerings). In the center section is a large slab of tofu or konnyaku (jelly-like substance made from konnyaku potato), into which everyone plunges the pieces of their broken needles. Sticking the needles into something soft is a way of showing appreciation to the needles which have been stuck through hard substances. The needleworkers also pray for improvement in their needlework skills.
Later they will be taken to a sacred final resting place. The tofu keeps them safe and not forgotten, yet because of being protected in the tofu they can do no harm with their points. In a second sense they are still present in life. The priest will incant a sutra, that reflects the passage of the needles from use, and invokes a Buddhist blessing that is passed on to the users of the needles. By showing respect to the needles they have used through the past year, they are offering thanks and requesting that the power and energy of the needles be present in the stitchers for the coming year, so that their skills may be improved. Priests will also sing sutras to comfort the needles, heal their broken spirits and thank them for work well done. No sewing takes place on this day.
In Japan, needles became commonly used in the 14th century. At this time, needles were precious and used with especial care, which probably led to the idea of doing "kuyou" for the needles, a religious ceremony to calm the spirit and put them to rest". Although it is originally a religious practice, in present days, it is widely known as a ceremony for needleworkers to show appreciation for the needles and pray for improvement in needlework skills. These days, many kimono seamstress and needlework schools still go to the shrine to attend the Hari-kuyou ceremony. Some needleworkers show appreciation by simply not doing any needlework on that day, thereby giving their needles a holiday.