Monday, January 2, 2012

Oshogatsu Osoji

What Christmas is to Americans, Oshogatsu, the New Year holiday, is to the Japanese. Families gather, gifts are exchanged, businesses close for several days. In preparation, homes are cleaned top-to-bottom and then decorated. There is a frenzy of cooking mochi and other special New Year foods.
"Preparations for Oshogatsu begin in mid-December. Two Kadomatsu are placed in front of the main gate of the house. They are very elaborate ornamental arrangements of pine with bamboo intermingled wth the longer bamboo upright section in the middle. The Kadomatsu stand on the ground like gate guardians. Because of its hardiness, the pine tree stands for long life, and the bamboo for constancy and virtue -- a pun on its name. Shimenawa, or rice straw rope, hangs from the lintel of the entry door, a sacred rope from which hang wisps of gohei, white paper. Another arrangement of pine branches and bamboo adorns the main room withing the house to which blossoming plum is added. ... 
"... Kagami mochi, a large [mochi] surrounded by small ones, is placed on the stand in the main room's tokonoma, or alcove, next to the pine, bamboo and blossoming plum arrangement. ...
"To receive the New Year properly, each household must have susu barai, or cleaning day. It was a formerly hearth hearth exorcism. Even though I have lived away from my homeland for many years, I still practice this ritual at each year's end so that I have a very fresh start at the beginning of the new year."
-- Kimiko's World, Kimiko Sugano

Another word for pre-New Year cleaning is osoji.

In our home, we prepare for Christmas with a thorough cleaning in anticipation of visits from family and friends. Then after Christmas we then turn our attention to the chashitsu, the tea room, in observance of the Japanese tradition of cleaning the home and hearth for the New Year. 

Even though the tatami are swept and wiped each week during okeiko and the rest of the room gets cleaned as needed, dust and cat fur accumulates in the corners and under the mats. It's a chore to lift out the heavy tatami, vacuum and wipe them -- it used to take the two of us all day to clean the room, but our chore has since evolved into a cleaning party. Harvey-sensei's students come to help and the whole process goes so quickly that we're done in a couple of hours. Afterwards, we relax with sake and a bowl of miso or soba, and look forward to the New Year.


Laura and David moved tatami mats from the tea room
and stacked them in the hall.
Tatami removed from tea room,
Harvey dusts the window sill.
Photo by David Luckhardt

Laura dusts screens, tatami and the tea room
with her handy portable vacuum.

Photo by David Luckhardt

Holly washing the windows.
Photo by David Luckhardt

Laura adjusting extensions cords for the okiro.
Photo by David Luckhardt

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