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Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011

JAPAN LITE

O-soji in the year of the dust bunnies


Why is it that we always clean our houses before guests come to visit? If you're like me, it takes guests to prompt me to give things a shine. It just goes to show how low our standards for ourselves really are.

But it also shows that we hold guests in high regard, or at least high enough that we don't want to reveal to them the inner slobs we really are. It is this general reluctance to clean that I feel is behind the O-soji, or as I prefer to call it Oh! Soji, in Japan.

Oh! Soji is a dedicated time for once a year "big cleaning" of the house. It is carried out in the days before New Year's. This is Japan's way of bringing up the collective standard in a harmonious, "radio taiso" kinda way. C'mon, altogether now: Let's clean!

"But it's cold at New Year's!" I can hear you whining. All the better! Frigid temperatures require you to be a tough old bat to get the cleaning done. Why do you think Japanese children must wear shorts to school in winter, endure schools without heat and go for occasional polar bear swims? So they can grow up into tough old bats. It's also a way of sorting out the candidates for the next Winter Olympics.

Now, if I recall, you didn't do Oh! Soji at New Year's, did you? Well, you have a second chance, because the Chinese New Year is coming up on Feb 3. In the year of the rabbit, dust bunnies beware! It's time to get in touch with your inner janitor. And I'm here to help.

To get some advice, I asked my friend Junko, 43, what she does for Oh! Soji, and believe it or not, this is just her partial list:

Washing the bathroom floor and the walls with extra force

The important part here is the "extra force." You've just been too lenient with your bathroom this year and you know it. Now is the time to show it who is boss by attacking it with extra force, which I presume means g force. Supplement this with loud music for best results.

Mopping all the floors and wiping

You've probably been skimping on this one. You only mopped, right? Most people mop and sweep floors, but how many follow up by wiping? C'mon now, be honest. That's better.

Cleaning the fridge inside and out

Being that most Japanese people would be freshly stocking their refrigerators with traditional New Year's food, I can understand this mid season clean-up of expired foods and fish guts stuck to the refrigerator walls. After all, you don't want friends to be helping themselves to expired food. Family? Maybe. But friends, no.

I share my refrigerator with my neighbor at New Year's because, with seven grandkids coming over for the holidays, she needs more space to store food. She must be shocked at the uncleanliness of my freezer, which I've, um, never cleaned. Oh, dear.

Washing the windows inside and out

The inside part I get, but the outside? I guess that explains why there are so few windows in traditional Japanese houses, and so much frosted glass.

Taking the car to the car wash

Got you on this one — I bet you didn't even considered this household cleaning.

Cleaning the bed sheets and airing out futons

For those of you who clean your bed sheets once a year, whether they need it or not, this is the time to do so. And of course, hang your futon out your window to air it out (makes you wonder if the Japanese hang out mattresses too).

I would add just one thing to Junko's list: heavy duty dusting. One reason I like to clean in the winter time is because I can use my cat, who has fluffed up to the size of a cheerleader's pom-pom, to dust with. In the summer time, a good swipe over the coffee table with the cat just doesn't do it. But with a bulked up winter coat and a good brushing to encourage static cling, I can clean the entire house with one passing sweep as the cat becomes a magnet for all kinds of dirt. With enough static cling, she can strip paint off walls.

The trick is, remembering to clean her off so she doesn't look like some kind of mad porcupine on the loose. And don't tell me this is cruel; she loves it. Besides, she needs an allowance.

This is not to say that you need your own cat to be able to dust properly. In most parts of Japan you'll notice quite a few stray cats milling around outside as if they are looking for employment.

I think that you'll find that Oh! Soji is a great wintertime activity. It's also a great way to stay warm.



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