|How to write Ōsōji in |
The New Year holiday is the biggest, most important holiday in Japan. Preparations begin early, and the actual holiday period lasts for several days. There were a number of customs that I really liked, but the one that affected me the most, and the one that I both loved and hated the most, was the custom of year-end housecleaning called Ōsōji. Literally, it means "big cleaning." It reminded me of the Western custom of spring housecleaning, except that it's done in winter, and it's not only done in homes, but also in temples and shrines, in schools and in the workplace. Can you imagine a whole country getting clean all at the same time? Ōsōji is a time to purify and refresh our living spaces, work areas and places of learning and worship in order to properly enter the new year. It is not only a literal cleansing, but also a spiritual one.
|This is a martial arts studio being cleaned.|
|This couple is replacing the rice paper in the sliding doors.|
One type of decoration is shimenawa, sacred twists of rope made of rice straw from the past year's rice crop. (In this sense, they are symbols of gratitude for the past year's harvest and the hope that the coming year's crop will be bountiful.) The ropes can be very thin or extremely thick. Rice paper tassels representing rice straw roots are often attached to the ropes. These tassels are called shide, and are specially folded to be shaped like lightning bolts.
Kami are the gods of the Shintō religion. They are the spirits of the natural world, the elements of nature, animals, and forces of creation in the universe. They are also the spirits of the deceased. As manifestations of the interconnecting energy of the universe, they are examples of what human beings should strive for in life. They exist in a hidden world, parallel to our own physical world. The word kami can be translated in a number of ways, which is probably for the best, as no one translation captures the full range of meaning. Since Shintō is an inclusive religion (which is why it gets along so well with Buddhism in Japan), the word kami has also come to include Buddhas and the Judeo-Christian God.
|Shimekazari hung over a door|
It may surprise Japanese people who visit Hawaii during at New Years' time to find that kadomatsu are placed in front of many homes, whether the residents are ethnic Japanese or not. The ones in Hawaii also feature ironwood branches, as well as local bamboo.
Once the home is cleaned and decorated, there are lots of other things to do in order to get ready for the New Year celebration. I'll talk more about that as we get closer to year end. :-)