Japanese habitually do their traditional, big, once-a-year house cleaning - like Spring Cleaning in Canada - at year-end, as part of the entire New Year thing. It’s called “osoji.” New Year is an important time in Japan, like Christmas and New Year’s, Canada Day and Thanksgiving all thrown into one. And cleaning the house is part of it. They want to start the New Year fresh and clean; pay off outstanding debts by year-end; and more. In my home we habitually split the household chores. I do almost all the laundry and dishes, including putting the clothes out to dry, retrieving them, folding and putting away. I do the vacuuming and airing the futons. I keep the apartment stocked with everyday items like toilet paper, tissues, tooth paste, garbage bags, dental floss, shampoo, body soap, plus various kinds of detergent. My wife does almost all the shopping, all the cooking, she pays the bills and deals with schools, and she takes most of the garbage down on garbage days. I take down some of the garbage, plus all of the recyclables: plastic bottles and paper. We do this all the time. It has nothing to do with defining our sex roles, or working cooperatively within the family, or about me as the husband responsibly and fairly sharing the burden of housework. It’s about the facts that I am a clean, anally-retentive fuss bucket while my wife is a lazy, filthy slob on the one hand; and she can speak Japanese and negotiate the culture better than I on the other hand.
When the New Year approaches my wife goes crazy with house cleaning - putting away all warm-weather clothes and taking out cold-weather clothes. She is suddenly exorcised about my stuff around the house - meaning all my books. I have bookcases overflowing and stacks on the floor. It suits me, but not her. So every year osoji is a trial. I have to patiently endure my wife’s annual harangue. It’s fierce while it lasts, but I know it will dissipate. Not blow over but remain simmering under the surface to re-emerge next year.
I want to live with books all the time, surrounded by them in lovely captivity to ideas and information. It’s not like I don’t use them. I’ve read them. I continue to read them. I continue to read new things. Reading is like breathing to me. But as the end of the year approaches I know there will come a day when my wife rails against my books with the same intensity as the first time she railed. Being a person who does not read she cannot see the value in books. And she is incensed by instances of multiple copies of the same book (I have about 600 Bibles and about 14 Complete Shakespeare’s, including two 1968 Norton facsimiles of the Frist Folio). I try explaining that one copy is different from another copy, but she’s not having it. She thinks it is an overwhelmingly obvious case of wasted space and money. (It’s annoying how, with women, disagreements always involve money at some point. People of a certain disposition praise it as the virtue of practicality, but I am prone to condemn it as moral shallowness and intellectual thinness. For me morality and intellectualism are closely related because I believe that immorality is stupid and that human beings can be said to have a moral obligation to be intelligent.)
Some Japanese might ignore osoji, but that’s almost unimaginable to me.