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Words for Spring Cleaning in Japan

GaijinPot looks at Japanese words for the life changing — and enlightening — magic of tidying up.

By 4 min read

The winter is almost over and if you’re anything like us, you spent so long huddled under the duvet that you probably have an apartment full of bulky jackets that need a good dusting or throwing out and a couple of dark places that haven’t seen a vacuum cleaner in far too long (hint: if it starts moving, it has been waaaaay too long… ).

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to 断捨離だんしゃり (throw some things out), 部屋へや片付かたづける (clean your room), roll up your sleeves and get involved in some hardcore 大掃除おおそうじ (housecleaning).

Of course, when it comes to the life changing magic of tidying up in Japanese, not only are the tasks difficult and time consuming, but you’ll also have to learn some tricky nouns and verbs to describe it at the same time.

The first words are, of course, the names of some of the weapons that are needed for this monumental task of fighting that ゴミ (trash). These include:

  • ホウキ (broom)
  • ちりとり (dustpan)
  • 雑巾ぞうきん (dust cloth)
  • バケツ (cleaning bucket)
  • 掃除機ぞうじき (vacuum cleaner)
  • エプロン (apron)
  • はたき (feather duster)
  • ゴム手袋てぶくろ (rubber gloves)
  • ブラシ (brush)

And, of course, plenty of ゴミばこ (trash bags).

As well as cleaning, it can also be a useful time to expand your vocabulary with some of the weird and wonderful verbs that are associated with cleaning in Japanese.

As well as cleaning, it can also be a useful time to expand your vocabulary with some of the weird and wonderful verbs that are associated with cleaning in Japanese. Likely you recognize the verbs てる (throw away), かける (to turn on or set a machine), る (take) and みがく (polish) from other uses. However, which of the aforementioned nouns — so far we’ve studied ほうき, ゴミ, ちりとり, 雑巾, バケツ, 掃除機, エプロン, はたき, ゴム手袋 and ブラシ — do you think these verbs go with?

Some examples:

  • ゴミをさらう (throw out the trash)
  • 掃除機をかける (clean the floor with a vacuum cleaner)
  • ほうきで ほこりを取る (tidy up with a broom)
  • 雑巾でゆかを磨く (polish the floor with a cloth)

For the real stubborn stains you will need the word ごしごし (scrub). This is found in sentences such as “ゆかをブラシでごしごしあらう (to scrub the floor vigorously with a brush)” and “ふく石鹸せっけんけてごしごしする (I used soap to scrub the clothes).”

If all that scrubbing gets your clothes even dirtier, you’ll want to do some 洗濯せんたく, or laundry, as all those sweaty socks do have a habit of 洗濯ものまってる (collecting). Your tool for busting these stinky abominations will be 洗濯機せんたっきほうむ (tossing them in the washing machine) with some 洗剤せんざい (detergent). If you don’t know how to use your washing machine, don’t forget to check our step-by-step GaijinPot guide to mastering laundry day. After a good wash, don’t forget to す (hang them up) and かわく(let them dry).

Similarly, it’s easy to overlook the glass, sills and frames and forget to do some まどき  (window cleaning). Another thing to be aware of in Japan is the infamous drops of 結露けつろ (condensation) that collect on windows. Unfortunately, many apartments can suffer from this problem and unless you are willing to leave your extractor fan running 24/7, it can be difficult to cope with.

From here, the verbs get really interesting and a little tricky. If I told you that the verb 退治たいじ (to conquer) was associated with cleaning, you might assume I was crazy. However, what kind of cleaning would you guess this verb was associated with?

After repeating the same verbs countless times, both the cleaning and the learning will fly by.

Hilariously, Japanese uses the 退治 verb to refer to tackling those むしの退治, or tiny insects and wee beasties, that accumulate in your tatami mats and in that aforementioned mysteriously moving corner of your apartment. For really stubborn infestations, though, you may want to really blast those crawlies using GaijinPot’s handy guide to the war on bugs. Time to get conquering!

If you have tatami, you will likely also have a 布団ふとん (futon). Appropriately for something that is hard to take care of at the best of times, it’s associated with a few tricky verbs. Futons need to be してある, or aired out and dried. After that, you’ll want to 圧縮あっしゅくする (compress your futon), たたむ (fold it) up and れにれる (put it in the closet).

For learners — especially those who are still struggling with the Japanese language — this can be a great chance to broaden your vocabulary as a lot of the cleaning verbs are really useful in other situations.

For example, 磨く is also found in を磨く (brushing teeth) and 圧縮する is also found with ファイルを圧縮する (compressing a file on your computer). Learners will also benefit from the tried, tested and true study technique of taking out those Post-it notes with the appropriate Japanese words written on them and attaching them to the tools they’re using — then they can drill vocab as they clean. After repeating the same verbs countless times, both the cleaning and the learning will fly by.

If you clean up enough, you may start to feel a strange satisfaction as everything becomes ordered and complete — almost Zen-like. If this sounds like you, then you are likely starting to understand an important Buddhist principle whereby disciples are encouraged to embrace cleaning as the foundation of their practice. So spring can be a time for a new start and — who knows? — you may even find enlightenment doing it.

What spring cleaning do you have to do? Let us know in the comments.

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