Recently I was rereading an old issue of the Japanese manga “Saintly Young Men” (mentioned here and here), and in this episode (mentioned here) Buddha and Jesus decided to clean the house to get ready for the New Year. This is called ōsōji (大掃除) in Japanese which just means “big cleaning”. The idea is simple: in order to start the new year fresh, it’s a tradition to thoroughly clean the house. In the manga, Buddha and Jesus dusted all the furniture (including their Buddha statue which they used as a coatrack), removed all the tatami mats to clean the fllor, and then cleaned all the closets and the kitchen.
One amusing gag is that the Buddha is cleaning the kitchen with a famous German-made sponge, and we use the same thing. We bought these little sponges from the nearby Daiso store here in Seattle, but they’re surprisingly durable and good for cleaning:
These are made out of melamine foam, which is an interesting substance. The sponges are quite soft, but very effective at taking off dirt and burnt food from stoves, plates and such. They are very popular in Japan, but are hard to find in the US except for Daiso stores I believe.
Anyhow, in the manga, the Buddha reverently holds up one of the sponges and says in Japanese: 煩悩すら消せるじゃないかこのスポンジは “Maybe these sponges could even erase mental-defilements…?” Here, bonnō (煩悩) is a Japanese-Buddhist term for mental defilements such as greed, hatred, and ignorance. In Sanskrit, they’re called Kleshas.
Like the manga, we’ve been trying to clean house, even though we’re busy with a new baby. Since we have a new baby, “Little Guy”, we’re already getting lots of toys, gifts and clothes, but our house is already full from toys, gifts and clothes for “Princess” (our 6 year daughter). Princess has years and years worth of toys, arts and crafts, pictures and such. She makes all kinds of interesting things with origami paper, drawings, games and such, but we have no more space to put them. So, we started to clean out the things she didn’t really play with. There are a lot of games that she doesn’t play with anymore, or crafts she’s completed (or never completed) that she doesn’t need anymore. We filled 8 garbage bags with her stuff!
But also wife and I are cleaning out too. My wife had a large VHS collection we can’t watch anymore, so she threw that out. I have a lot of books I don’t really need anymore, computer parts I never use, and old documents I don’t need anymore. So, I am trying to get rid of them too. Our “nerd room” (the den) has been getting very crowded with boxes, junk and books that were piling up, so it was time to clean. The dust and ashes from the Buddhist altar in there was pretty bad.
Unfortunately, I cleaned out a bit too much. My wife had some documents from Japan for our kids, that I put into the shredder because they were mixed in with other papers we didn’t need. Immediately after that, I thought “Maybe I should ask my wife what they were” and realized too late. Fortunately, it’s nothing too serious, and we can get another copy when we visit Japan again and go to the local kuyakusho (区役所) or “ward government office”. Thankfully, that’s not too far from where my wife’s family lives.
But it’s a good feeling to clean things. The den looks better, and my daughter’s play area is more organized than before. This is good because she just got a lot of stuff from Christmas, and we need to put it somewhere. :p
Anyhow, always remember to ask before you shred something you don’t know.
P.S. Happy New Year to folks in Japan. If you’re reading this, it’s probably the 31st. See you in 2014.