In English, we reference “spring cleaning” for the traditional big clean-outs and weekends of de-cluttering that usually take place as we come out of the cooler months.
Similarly, the Japanese use the term “osouji” (大掃除) to describe the ritualistic cleaning of homes and offices before the New Year. Like “spring cleaning”, however, osouji may be used to describe major clean-outs at any time of the year.
Osouji is more than getting the house prepared for family New Year celebrations. It symbolizes a fresh, new beginning. Ridding homes and working spaces of clutter, particularly the clearing of soot and dust known as susuharai (煤払い), is said to give thanks for the blessings of the previous year and to purify these spaces for the coming one. It is therefore a ritual of great cultural and religious importance, and the Japanese will often dedicate several days to this annual custom, taking extra time and care to address those neglected areas around the home or office.
Given that osouji takes place in the winter, the cleaning of windows, balconies and outdoor spaces can be an unpleasantly cold task. Yet, the liberating feeling of “out with the old, in with the new” and putting your best foot forward into the New Year is motivation enough for most to grab their scarves and gloves and head outside.
Do you have a similar custom in your country or culture? Do you do something ritualistically each year to mark the coming of the new one? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.