How clean is Japan

Order and cleanliness in Japanese

Visitors to Japan from Germany usually notice immediately how clean the Japanese inner cities are. The cleaning service in Japan is extremely efficient: chewing gum and cigarette butts on the platforms as well as overflowing rubbish bins would be unthinkable here.

Ōsōji: Major cleaning at the turn of the year

On the other hand, regular cleaning even has a tradition in Japan. The word is particularly popular ōsōjiwhich in German means something like "large plaster". Similar to how we do our spring cleaning when the first buds sprout, a major cleaning campaign is started in Japan at the end of the year to start the new year fresh and free of contaminated sites. This is not limited to private households: in schools and at work, sleeves are usually rolled up just before the turn of the year and everything is cleaned thoroughly, right down to the last corner.

This custom dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868) when most people were still using charcoal stoves and the house was often very dirty at the end of the year. In addition, the major cleaning had a spiritual background: It was seen as a cleansing ritual as part of the preparation for the Shinto god Toshigami (年 神, "god of the year"). He was worshiped as the New Year god and it was believed that he would visit every house at the beginning of the new year.

Also the Japanese New Year greeting Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu (“Happy New Year”) is said to have originally been a welcoming formula for the New Year God. Since the new year brings new life, it has been given as much weight in Japan as it has been with us spring - this also explains why the cleaning ritual takes place at the end of the year. The expression accordingly containsgeishun (迎春, "Happy New Year") the character for "spring" (春) and the new year itself is also called shinshun (新春, "new spring").

A clean community

Another reason why cleaning and tidying up is so important in Japan is that people in the densely populated island state are always careful not to be a burden to each other. In Japan there are hardly any public rubbish bins - and yet there is hardly any rubbish on the streets because most people take their rubbish home with them in a plastic bag. It is difficult to imagine that this would also be possible in Germany. In Japan, however, the community plays a major role in everyday life and harmony and consideration are paramount. A term that is often used in this context is go-meiwaku (ご 迷惑), which could be roughly translated as “to be a burden”. It is generally accepted that this should be avoided as much as possible.

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In addition to the request for good behavior, there are usually warning words on signs that are intended to remind you that your own behavior also affects others. For example, on the sign below, which asks to collect the big business of your dog in any case, there is the addition: Minna ga komaru “hanashi kai”. This means that the release of dogs or the lack of education of them (laisser-faire) causes difficulties for all. So here the bad conscience of the dog owner is appealed directly.

Order makes you creative

In Japan, proper waste separation is also very important - and the garbage cans (if there are any) are always marked accordingly. This can also take on creative forms - like this self-made box for used chopsticks and wooden skewers in the shape of the Sanrio mascot Cinnamonroll at a festival. So you can see that tidiness can also be great fun if you only have the right ideas. Perhaps you will take an example from the Japanese and close the year with a refreshing major cleaning - so that you can welcome the New Year in a new splendor!

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