Senninbari – Thousand Stitch Belt

Correct translation of Senninbari would be “thousand person stitches” but in the western world they are more commonly known as thousand stitch belts. The term “belt” is not correct as there were various forms of Senninbari such as vests and caps, belts were most common though. Senninbari were given to soldiers to protect them from the dangers of battle. When in belt form they were worn wrapped around the waist under the uniform. A woman (usually a family member of the soldier) would stand in front of a temple, trainstation or at other busy places and ask women passing by to add one stitch to the belt. In most cases the colour of the thread is red as red symbolizes good luck in Japanese culture. Women born in the year of the tiger could sew 12 stitches or a number of stitches that added up to her age. Once 1000 stitches had been collected the belt was complete and believed (by some) to have special protecting powers. There are many variations of Senninbari, some contain sewn in good luck charms such as coins, others are decorated with slogans and artwork. Most of the times the stitches are arranged in rows but sometime you can see patterns like a rising sun or slogans. Belts on which the stitches are arranged in the pattern of a tiger or have a tiger painted on them are often called “tiger belts”.

Another less common kind of belt is called “Senninriki”. They are very similar to Senninbari but instead of having 1000 stitches they have the Japanese character for power (chikara) written on them 1000 times. The character for “chikara” can be pronounced “riki” as well and this is where the name “Senninriki” stems from.

Here is one of the belts in my collection. It is unusual since it is a combination of Senninbari and Senninriki! One half of the belt is covered with stitches, the other half with “chikara” characters. Click to enlarge the pictures.

This is how a Senninbari was worn:

Senninbari were sometimes presented in comfort bags, the following is an artwork printed on such a bag. It shows a mother and her daughter preparing a 1000 stitch belt:

A Woman working on a “tiger belt”:

Various pictures of women and girls preparing Senninbari:

Two more, not sure on what kind of items they are working:

The following could be a picture of a patriotic women’s organization preparing Senninbari(?), i will try to get a translation, maybe this will clear things up.

Japan was a deeply militarized society, it was seen as honorable duty for schoolgirls to participate in the war effort. The following is a photo probably showing the “mass production” of Senninbari or similar items:

~ by m1pencil on October 16, 2010.

5 Responses to “Senninbari – Thousand Stitch Belt”

  1. Hello, I am currently researching Senninbari and was wondering if you could please let me know your references for this post. Thanks, Lisa.

  2. Dear m1pencil,
    I work as a photo editor on a series of history books – there’s one of your images we’d like to use in one of our books. Can you send me an email at hbv-billedreseach (at) bonnier.dk and I will write a more detailed email to you about our request?
    All the best,
    Jasmina Nielsen

    Jasmina Nielsen
    Photo Editor, Historiens Højdepunkter
    Highlights of History
    Bonnier Publications
    Copenhagen, Denmark

  3. Hello —

    My company designs museum exhibits, and we are interested in using one of your photos from this post in an exhibit we are currently designing for the Go For Broke National Education Center. Could you contact me at judy@quatrefoil.com to further discuss the matter?

    Thanks much,

    Judy Wible
    Asset Researcher
    Quatrefoil Associates
    http://www.quatrefoil.com

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