Monday, December 13, 2010

Susuharai and Oseibo

The preparations for New Year's festivities(正月事始め, Shogatsu Kotohajime) are started on December 8th in Tokyo, December 13th in Kyoto.
I watched TV news reports showing that maiko in Kyoto received a new fan for Japanese dance from her master today.

We have a custom of cleaning house thoroughly at the end of each year. That custom was called susuharai(煤払い) that comes from cleaning home altar and rooms to welcome the god of the New Year. It had been a regular annual event on the 13th day of the 12th month at the Edo Castle since 1640. Warriors and commoners began to follow the custom.

In the Edo Period, merchants used to clean their house with their employees and their regular steeplejacks and young neighbors. The whole town did the cleaning on this day.
After cleaning up, elderly participants in it were thrown in the air (in celebration?) and dishes such as soba noodles or sake were served.

Susuharai literally means brushing off the soot.  Even now, many shrines and temples maintain this custom to brush away the dust on floors or Buddhist statues on this day.

We are busy in December.
We have to send a year-end gift called Oseibo(お歳暮), clean our house, write and send postcards as New Year's greetings to be delivered on New Year's Day and make the preparations for New Year's festivities (and Christmas).

Oseibo is a year-end gift given around mid-December to show gratitude for the favors they received during the year. It originated from the custom that a married daughter or a branch family bring her parents or the head family offerings such as rice, fishes and rice cakes to welcome ancestral spirits.
It is said that Oseibo became popular in the Edo Period, when people made payment before the Bon holiday and at the end of the year. So they presented to their customers, relatives and benefactors at those times.

A long thin strip of paper attached to a year-end gift called noshi(熨斗) represents a dried abalone which is traces of expensive fishes for gifts.
It has become common to send a gift from stores or through the Internet to elders including parents, relatives, and superiors at work. Recently, most of year-end gifts are sent to relatives.

This year's maple leaves in my garden are more beautiful than usual. They are on the verge of falling although most yellow and red leaves in my area fell out of the trees.

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