On the afternoon of 19th February, everyone was going about their business at the Bamboo Bathhouse, when Mama Kōjin let out a loud cry.
Everyone rushed to see what the fuss was about, and found the old woman looking with dismay at a line of muddy footprints coming in from the garden, across the polished wooden floor. Kiku blushed suddenly and said “I’m sorry Mama K, but the garden was really muddy, and I don’t wear shoes to take off at the entrance – I went to wash my feet in the shower as soon as I got in, but I couldn’t help leaving a trail…”
Mama Kōjin’s frown softened slightly, and she chuckled, “Well the seasonal marker for the five days from today is ‘soil becomes muddy’, something that happens as the temperatures start to rise a little – perhaps I should have been ready for it!”
Miko-chan smiled widely and said, “but now we get to clean it up!”
Cleaning is an important task for the residents of the Bamboo Bathhouse, who not only like to help keep the community clean with the baths themselves, but also give neighbourhood talks on the art of cleaning – Mama Kōjin is an expert in both cleaning and keeping spaces clutter free. Not only limited to ‘ōsōji’, which is the big clean up that happens in many Japanese households before the coming of the New Year, the act of cleaning is a ritual enjoyed by many as a way to look after ones self and the people around them.
In many Japanese schools, children are expected to help clean up the classrooms and other communal areas, as well as washing up after lunchtimes, and in doing so children learn how to do things for themselves, as well as others.
Miko-chan had learned through Mama Kōjin that there are different elements to the art of cleaning, with decluttering and organisation becoming a big thing taken from Japan out into the wider world in recent years. One well-known method requires an owner to establish if an object ‘sparks joy’*, described by the term ‘tokimeku’ in Japanese which means something like ‘makes your heart flutter’. The idea is to only keep things with meaning or direct purpose, and donate or recycle everything else.
The term sōji (掃除) is a generic term for cleaning, with seisō (清掃) being more specifically wiping clean, dusting, sweeping, mopping etc. Then there is seiri (整理), which means decluttering and organising, and seiton (整頓) to tidy away and arrange neatly. Seiketsu (清潔) means to keep things clean actively (such as taking of shoes before entering the home). A methodology known as ‘5S’ was developed from some of these principles into a workplace efficiency system with the word shitsuke (躾) also incorporated, which means sustaining the other principles.
As the friends spent the afternoon cleaning up the wooden floors, Miko-chan asked if the next machi-zemi* at the Bamboo Bathhouse could be one on cleaning techniques and tips, which Mama Kōjin thought was an excellent idea.
* ‘Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying’ by Marie Kondo gives a step by step guide to her decluttering methods.
* when neighbourhood shops and businesses want to promote themselves or contribute to the local community they hold a local workshop or seminar – the word ‘machi’ means town or neighbourhood, and ‘zemi’ comes from the word ‘seminar’ in English. “A machizemi can be anything from a craft workshop to a cooking class or a lecture.