A Thousand Stitches of Hope [Mrs Matsuo's poem - Japanese]

Place Oceania: Australia, New South Wales, Sydney, Mosman
Accession Number AWM2018.765.1.6
Collection type Art
Measurement Overall: 150 mm x 1140 mm plus ties [irreg]
Object type Textile
Physical description Hand embroidery and calligraphy on cotton
Maker Belgiorno, Michelle
Date made 2016
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Period 2010-2019

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright


Senninbari belt featuring a Japanese poem by Matsue Matsuo in calligraphy. A second belt, AWM2018.765.1.5, is embroidered with an English translation of the poem. It was stitched by a Japanese woman.

A Thousand Stitches of Hope was a collaborative art project involving hundreds of Australian and Japanese women in stitching 75 commemmorative senninbari belts. In a series of sewing workshops, the artist Michelle Belgiorno invited Japanese and Australian women of all ages to add their stitches and war stories whilst discussing reconciliation and Australian-Japanese history. Nine of the embroidered belts are represented in the Australian War Memorial’s collection. The artist noted that: “the communal act of stitching and talking, acknowledging past deeds and expelling anger, sorrow and shame was incredibly moving for many participants.”

The senninbari belt was traditionally a good luck amulet given to soldiers before their departure from Japan. Made of white cotton, the belts were decorated with 1000 knotted stitches which were sewn by women from the family and local community as an act of devotion and hope for a safe return. It was believed that the love of all the people who stitched the belt would protect the wearer from harm. As WWII progressed and Japan sent more and more men to fight, the senninbari became a state tool of nationalism and patriotism. Women were pressed to stitch belts for all soldiers, not just for their loved ones. School children, patriotic women’s groups and individuals stitched the belts to be given to soldiers as good luck charms. A senninbari belt belonging to Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo, was found amongst the remains of the midget submarine which was destroyed in Taylor’s Bay Mosman, near the artist’s studio. After the war, the Australian Government returned Matsuo’s senninbari belt to his mother as an act of reconciliation. As a poet, she responded with several Tanka poems expressing her sadness at the sacrifice and loss of lives on both sides.

The threads of these new belts, made in a spirit of reflection and collaboration, became a metaphor for the interwoven stories, lives and connections between the two countries, and these objects once associated with war and shame, became expressions of hope for a peaceful future.