If you enjoy nothing better than working busily away at your sewing machine then we're sure you're aware that a number of your tools will wear out the more projects you complete – and sewing machine needles are no exception. To make sure all of your seams are perfect, your needles have to be replaced with new ones at regular intervals. But what happens to the old needles? If you don't have the opportunity to recycle them, they usually end up in your general trash. So, what else could you do with them?
On February 8 and December 8 every year, broken, bent, blunt and old needles are taken to a nearby temple or shrine. Participants are dressed for the occasion in traditional kimonos. The nationwide tradition is popular with fashion school students, amateur sewers, tailors, textile workers and especially kimono manufacturers.
The festival honors Awashima no kami, one of the gods in Shintism. As a result, the celebrations are usually held in temples dedicated to the deity. Here, the ceremony may be more reminiscent of a wedding than a funeral and is accompanied by a proper celebration. The exact day of the ceremony depends on the region: West Japan, Kansai and the Kyoto region celebrate in December. The rest of Japan hold the celebration, known as Hari Kuyō, in February.
For their final journey, the needles are placed in a soft piece of tofu or a Konnyaku, a cake made of konjac root. The thinking behind this is that the old, worn needle now deserves a break and a cozy place to rest. During the ceremony, participants thank the needle and pray for the future of the art of sewing. Many also hope to improve their sewing skills in the coming year. The sponges studded with needles are then placed on a river or into the sea. The ceremony often ends with a meal shared with friends. However, surprisingly one thing is missing from the celebrations: On the day of the ceremony, participants traditionally do not sew.