Winter

Hari Kuyo at Horin-ji – an Ancient Needle Memorial Service in Kyoto

Yuzuki

Writer

Japanese people cherish things for many years. Kimono is the best example. People tailor it according to growth and fashion at the time. After that, when the fabric weakens, they reuse it as a futon or a pouch. Thus, people use their own belongings for a long time. Hari Kuyo is a special ceremony that shows this Japanese traditional trait.

In the background, there are hard-workers -the needles. Since the Japanese lifestyle essentially needs the big power of needles, people have created a Needle Memorial Service. Even today, you can see that at Hourin-ji temple in Kyoto twice a year.


History of Needle Memorial Service

 Hari Kuyo is a memorial service for broken needles. Hundred years ago, needleworks were very important for women in Japan. Thus, such custom developed. The schedule has regional differences: it takes place on February 8th in the East of Japan, while it usually takes place on December 8th in the West. In Hourin-ji, it takes place on both dates.

Harikuyo circa 1960/日本語: 1960年頃の針供養

This custom started in the Edo period (1603-1867). About 100 years ago, you could see such customs in each household. Sadly, these customs gradually disappeared with the decrease of needlework. However, you can still find it in some temples or dressmaking schools.

According to historical references, Hourin-ji Hari Kuyo started with the imperial command of the Emperor to supply the needles of the Imperial Family. Even now, we are offering the hands that we kept from the Imperial Family during the event every year.

Kitani Chigusa (1895-1947). Source: http://taishou-kun.tumblr.com/image/131028430512

The Process of Hari Kuyo

Throughout the whole festival, people thank the needles and wish for the improvement of their skills and safety. The process is very simple. At the beginning, they put broken needles on a soft surface like Tofu or Konnyaku (yam cake). People of the past days were humorous, so they considered it as comfortable beds for needles.

On the day of the service, a lot of people (mainly women) who use a needle at their work such as dressmakers and textile manufacturers bring their broken needles to the temple. You will also find some people who wear Kimono!

Image courtesy of 豊瀬源一

About Hourin-ji Temple

Kyoto is a historical city and it is full of old shrines and temples. Hourin-ji is one of the oldest temples, founded in 713. In 829, Dosho, a disciple of Kukai (the founder of Japanese Buddhism), placed a Buddha statue there. This temple was popular among religious craftsmen. That’s why the needle memorial service started in this temple.

Moreover, the Buddha statue in the temple named “Koku-zou Sonzou”, is thought of as a God of knowledge. Thus, this temple is also famous for “Thirteen years old visit.” On April 13th, 13 years old boys and girls visit the Buddha to give their regards and pray for future knowledge, happiness, and health.

Image courtesy of  KENPEI

Participate in the Ceremony!

During the festival, you can experience the ritual by stabbing a big needle in Konnyaku.  Of course, you can be a participant. You can bring your own old needles for this event. Please offer them before the tablet of the deceased and reward its service. However, please refrain from bringing hypodermic needles!

Try “Amazake” and Warm-up!

On the grounds of the temple, you can try sweet sake – Amazake. Amazake is a Japanese traditional drink made of fermented rice. It smells like usual sake, but amazake is non-alcohol. So, you can enjoy it with your sons and daughters.

Amazake tastes very sweet. As it warms your mind and body, a lot of people drink it on cold days. Also, it is effective for diet and beauty. This sweet drink is popular among women. On events at shrines and temples, they usually sell amazake. It would be fun to enjoy drinking comparison of sweet sake.

Details and Access

Date: December 8th and February 8th every year

When: 13:00 – 14:00

Place: Horin-ji Temple

Address: 68, Arashiyama Kokuzouyama-cho, Nishi-gyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto

Fee: free

Official website (Japanese only): https://www.kokuzohourinji.com/events.html

Access:

From Hankyu Railway (Arashiyama Line):

Get off at Arashiyama Sta. → Walk about 3 min

From Randen/Keifuku Electric Railroad (Arashiyama Line):

Get off at Arashiyama Sta. → Walk about 5 min

From JR Sagano Line:

Get off at Saga Arashiyama Station → Walk about 15 min

From Kyoto City Bus:

Get on 11, 28, 91, 93 lines→Get off at Arashiyama (or Arashiyama Sta.-mae) Stop → Walk about 5 min

Closing Remarks

Every day needles work hardly behind you, even today in the 21st Century. Using this event as an opportunity, please tell your appreciation to needles. Even if you don’t have your own needles, your clothes and bags wouldn’t exist without this instrument. Please visit the Hari Kuyo and say thank you to needleworkers all over the world.

Come and see Kyoto at night with your own eyes. The local guides are here to help! If you need any help and would like a local guide to tell you more about Hourin-ji Hari Kuyo event or even more, please check the banner below! Walk around the city with us and discover all the edges of Japanese culture!

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Yuzuki

I am a university student in Kyoto, majoring in Japanese art history. I have held international event to learn deep Kyoto together. It’s my pleasure if you read my article and get interested more about our culture.

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