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Oosouji - More Than Just A ‘Big Clean Up’

2021 is coming to an end soon. Japan has several customs towards the end of the year, most famous being bounenkai (忘年会), where co-workers gather to reflect upon the year’s happenings, make amends, forgive the year’s failures, and enjoy good food and drink.

If you’ve been in Japan for at least a year, you’ve probably experienced it before with your school or company.

Unfortunately, due to everything that has happened the past two years, many companies have given it a pass… or did Zoom bounenkai instead.

Another year end custom, one that you may not have taken part in is oosouji (大掃除), which is the equivalent to our more familiar ‘spring clean’.

If you’ve never experienced it before, ask if it’s customary for your school/company, and offer to lend a hand!

Here’s a fun (subjective, yes) activity to do with your housemates or family (invite your friends if you live alone) for oosouji this year, particularly if you want to become a minimalist.

Prepare your work bag(s), smartphone and/or tablet, teaching material collection (I know some teachers who still keep stuff from years ago), and a large garbage bag - make sure to separate burnable and non-burnables if it’s called for in your local area.

Now, one by one, go through the contents and think about the obsolete material that you’ve been too lazy to throw away, or in the case of apps, delete.

Dispose of any useless items into the respective garbage bags.

When you are reluctant to admit of keeping hold of useless material, talk with your mates, friends, or family, and try to justify retention of the item(s).

Listen to them with an open mind before deciding once more to let go or not.

The act of throwing out all the junk can symbolise “envisioning the future”, and to reinforce a commitment to declutter, and to welcome the new year custom of shinnenkai (新年会), where everyone gathers to not dwell on and complain about past issues, or regret past mistakes from the past year, but to look into the future.

Like the bounenkai,  it is usually accompanied with good food and drink!

Extend this exercise with your coworkers to scrutinise their own keychains, carry bags, wallets and stuff in their phones.

What use or meaning does that ‘decorative’ strap on their keychain have?

Is that really a year-old cookie at the bottom of their bag?

Maybe a chapstick a few years past the expiry date?

Is that point card expired?

How about those vouchers?

Who is this Taro Tanaka in the phone contacts list?

What does this app do again?

We all keep unnecessary baggage which holds us back, weighs us down, and in turn hinders our ability to stay fresh and welcome change. So, whether it’s with your school, company, friends, or family, let’s take part in oosouji this year! It is more than just a ‘big clean up’.

Happy new year!

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