End-of-the-Year Deep Cleaning in Japan

As the year draws to a close, many people in Japan will go through a ritualistic deep cleaning of their homes, schools, and offices to mark the end of the year and to welcome in the new.

Cleaning up is called osouji (お掃除) in Japanese. As anyone who has ever been to Japan will know, people here take great pride in the cleanliness of their homes, school, offices and public spaces, but the end-of-the-year osouji is has a special cultural and religious significance.

Shinto priests traditionally perform susuharai (煤払い, a cleaning away of soot and dust) on December 13th to give thanks for the blessings of the previous year and to purify the shrine for the new year. Many families and schools will also devote several days to the chore, paying attention to nooks and crannies that may only be cleaned once a year.

Shinto priests cleaning the soot of from the eaves of Minatogawa Jinja in Kobe, Japan. December 13, 2007. Photo: dekunobou36

Shinto priests performing susuhirai, cleaning the soot of from the eaves of Minatogawa Jinja in Kobe, Japan. December 13, 2007. Photo: dekunobou36

After the scrubbing of stove hoods and balconies and window screens and the de-cluttering of closets is done, the year can psychologically come to a close. In the United States, there is a similar tradition of spring cleaning, but osouji takes place in December, when it’s particularly unpleasant and cold, though this year has been warmer than most (at least in Tokyo).

After the big end-of-the-year cleaning is done, the family can gather around and finally enjoy the festivities, often centered on eating, drinking, variety television, and more drinking, according to our sources!

Here are some fun facts about osouji and a few tips for deep cleaning your house

What percentage of households plan to do osouji?

According to a recent survey of 410 working moms by Lion, a major Japanese manufacturer of health and beauty supplies, 72% of respondents said that they plan on doing osouji. Of the 28% who said they do not plan on doing a big end-of-the-year cleaning, 42% said it was “too much trouble” and 58% said that their homes were already clean enough.

Don’t forget to dust the light fixtures

Osouji Honpo, a house cleaning service, says that the top three places that people most often forget to clean are:

  1. Light fixtures
  2. The balcony, including the air conditioner unit
  3. Window screens and windows

What is the best way to polish your floors?

Enlist the help of a local kindergarten class. We’re joking, of course but in all seriousness, Japanese school children are taught to take great care of their classrooms and school grounds. At the end of the year, every school does osouji!

School children cleaning their classroom at the end of the year.

School children cleaning their classroom at the end of the year.

Cleaning a One Room Apartment

Duskin says that single people only need to set aside three hours to clean their apartments: an hour each for the living room, bathroom, and kitchen. The key is to set a definite date and to get all your cleaning supplies lined up before hand. Hint: buy your cleaning supplies a 100-yen shop.

What if I’m too busy to clean?

Maid-in-Japan, a cleaning service that can deal with you in English, will clean your one-room (and up to 2-bedroom) apartment starting from 40,000yen ($332).

Top photo: Washing down the benches at the end of the year, Gunma Kodomo no Kuni, 2013