Dec 5, 2017

The least wonderful time of the year - Oosouji / 大掃除

The least wonderful time of the year - Oosouji / 大掃除 photo

It was smooth crooner Andy Williams who sang the iconic Christmas line, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” in his festive tune of the same name. While I agree with Andy for the most part, being from the U.K. Christmas still maintains its status as the most wonderful time of the year, even living in Japan as I reach the early afternoon of my days. Still, Japan does its best to put a dampener on festivities by declaring that December is the best time of the year to do a spring clean. In Japan - oosouji / 大掃除. Quite literally - “big clean.”

Personally, I think December in the northern hemisphere is emphatically the worst time of the year to be doing a spring clean. To put it simply, it’s too sodding cold and I’ve grown up with the custom of the festive season being exactly the time of year when you cast aside concerns of health, cleanliness, vigorous activity and purification. Christmas is the time to hibernate in front of the tele, stuff yourself to the point of immobility, drink and play board games. 

It’s surely only spiritual custom that can make opening all the windows to one’s abode on a frigid cold day as you scrub floors with a damp and dirty old rag seem like a good idea. And it still doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. I have a Japanese partner though, and if we know anything about the Japanese it’s that they like to follow the roles assigned to each season.

OK so some of the reasoning behind oosouji / 大掃除 in Japan has a touch of romance about it; getting things clean to start a new year afresh, and having the place spic and span ready for a visit from Shinto deity Toshigami (年神). After about an hour of it though, oosouji feels about as romantic as a punch in the face.  

We did our “spring clean” on Sunday. I was in charge of the windows which, given that we live close to Tokyo Bay, build up a steady coating of salty air over the course of the year. You could just about eat your dinner off them now though, although that status will change by about … tomorrow. The partner takes control of the kitchen and then the rest of the crib is shared. Thankfully we clean the bathroom pretty regularly and, overall, keep on top of the house cleaning as a whole. I still hate doing it though, and it remains the worst day of the year in Japan for me.

That being said, I think winter is better than summer for this sort of task and even if it was held (Yes, oosouji / 大掃除 in Japan is like an event) on a fine spring day, I’d probably moan the case that it would be better to do this in winter rather than waste a good day for going out. You can’t win, can you? 

Anyway, I can now feel smug about having gotten oosouji out of the way early doors and can look forward to putting up the Christmas tree and getting on with what Andy Williams calls, “The most wonderful time of the year.”

Anyone out there doing oosouji? Maybe you’d like to listen to a bit of Andy as you do?  Oh, and yes, we use マジッククリン (magiclean) for just about everything when it comes to this kind of work.



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.


  • edthethe

    on Dec 5

    i have always wondered why they did it in winter! I knew the new year thing,but honestly new year is more in spring with school and the fiscal start in april. I do get a small desire to clean during winter only because the husband loves to use a gas stove and i HAVE to open everything to feel like i can breath

  • helloalissa

    on Dec 5

    Maybe it's a good way to burn off some energy on a day that's too dreary to bother going out? I've been in the mood to clean and declutter for some reason, so I go with it. Using the good old vinegar and baking soda does the trick for me. Better to get it over with and leave more time for the eating and board games later in the month!

  • Tomuu

    on Dec 5

    @edthethe - Those gas stoves! We used to have one of those but it made me feel slightly nauseous. Glad we got rid of it.

  • Tomuu

    on Dec 5

    @helloalissa This is true. It certainly burned off some energy and I'm glad to have gotten it out of the way quite early.