Senninbari Workshop Tokyo 2016

Senninbari belt close-up

Michelle Belgiorno’s art is a visual exploration of human culture and behaviour in all its diversity. Her work derives from direct observation, cultural relics and icons, as well as from myths and other literary texts.

Her recent focus has been on the inscrutable culture and myths of Japan.


In 2016 Belgiorno was commissioned by the Mosman Art Gallery to create an artwork commemorating 75 years since three Japanese midget submarines carried out a surprise attack on Sydney Harbour in May 1942.

Titled A Thousand Stitches of Hope, Belgiorno worked with hundreds of Japanese and Australian women in Sydney and Tokyo to create and embroider 75 senninbari belts in response to our joint history.

The senninbari belt was traditionally a good luck amulet given to soldiers before their departure from Japan. Generally made of white cotton, the belts were decorated with a 1000 stitches sewn by women, (family and community), as an act of devotion and hope for a safe return. It was believed that the thoughts of all the people who stitched the belt would protect the wearer from harm.

One such senninbari belt, belonging to Lieutenant Keiu Matsuo, was found amongst the remains of the midget submarine which was destroyed in 1942 in Taylor’s Bay Mosman, near my art 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.

In researching my work for the exhibition, I was touched by this story; how such a simple cotton relic could help build bridges between individuals and nations.

In a series of sewing workshops I invited Japanese and Australian women of all ages to add their stitches and war stories whilst discussing reconciliation and Australian-Japanese history. The communal act of stitching and talking, acknowledging past deeds and expelling anger, sorrow and shame was incredibly moving for many participants.

The stitches and threads became a metaphor for the interwoven stories, lives and connections between our two countries. The 75 beautifully embroidered senninbari belts, once cultural relics associated with war and shame, became expressions of hope for continued peace.

The work is exhibited in Tokkotai: Contemporary Japanese and Australian Artists on War and the Battle of Sydney Harbour, held in an industrial scale former naval oil tank, built and camouflaged against a Japanese attack during WWII.

Saturday 20 May to Sunday 11 June 2017

T5 Tank, Georges Heights, Mosman.

For further information about the exhibition go to






"An exemplary exhibition, a distinctive local story in a dramatic local heritage site with outstanding collaborative artworks on themes of national and international significance."  MORE...

Dr Peter Emmett, ArtsHub



Radio Interview: East Side Radio with Maisy Stapleton: May 18, 2017.


Radio Interview: ABC 702 Radio Weekend Mornings with Simon Marnie. May 21, 2017.


Radio Interview: SBS Radio with Miku Sato (In Japanese). May 23, 2017.


Radio Interview: NorthSide Radio with Jane Arakawa. May 11, 2017.