Ōsōji 大掃除 is “New Year’s Cleaning”. More literally it means big cleaning. It is a custom observed by most people in Japan, sometime in December. Often in the last few days of the year. Usually around three days cleaning, not dissimilar to a “spring clean”. This allows the space to be purified in order to welcome Toshigami-sama, the New Year kami (Shinto gods).
I spent New Year’s Eve 2015 in Kyoto. I witnessed this thorough cleaning tradition with great interest. Many of the restaurants around where I was staying pulled all their furniture and equipment out on to the footpath. This cleaning gets into every nook and cranny. I have never seen anyone in Australia do this.
During ōsōji, people scrub the walls and the floors, they clean the window ledges and all the surfaces. Consequently, everything is renewed and ready for a fresh start to the new year. Clutter and dirt are cleaned away and unneeded gifts donated to charity. To allow them to be in the space could impact your good luck for the coming year. It is better not to bring last year’s business, and bills and paperwork, into the new year.
Ōsōji takes place in people’s homes, at schools and in offices and businesses. Concluding on or before the 31st December. Meanwhile, the person is mentally cleaning as they physically scrub. Creating, within themselves, a sense of order and organisation. An opportunity to let go of things which are no longer beneficial.
I love the potential of a New Year. My new diary (from Japan of course) is ready to go. My goal journal, too. New beginnings, new opportunities, a fresh start with new habits.
This year the mental cleaning feels really important and timely. With COVID rampaging through our communities and people’s anxiety levels high, we are being asked to change our thinking. Instead of trying to quell the storm, we are learning to live with it.
I am trying to get into the deep recesses of my mind, which has been trained for two years to think of self preservation and community safety. Mentally dismantling the current way of thinking in order to allow the new year to start without fear. Our morals and our ethics are being challenged. Our lives changed forever. I am scrubbing the synapses, dusting through the memory archives and hoping to leave a sparkling clean, empty slate on which next year may begin to make its mark.
So, firstly, Happy New Year. I hope 2022 brings some much need serenity and harmony to us all. Secondly, be safe and well and careful in the coming hours. Finally, let us all hope, pray (if that is your thing) and wish for the return of travel. I miss Japan. Where do you want to travel, who do you want to see and what is on the top of your “to-do” list for next year?