"Shiwasu" is another term for December in Japan and we often use the phrase "it's almost shiwasu" in our conversation. During this time of shiwasu, various customs and practices exist in Japan to finish up the old year and to prepare for a new year. Here are some of the typical events during shiwasu:
Oseibo (= a year-end gift)
This custom originates from the old traditional act of enshrining the ancestor's soul and sending an offering at New Year, which would involve descendants gathering together bring food to share with the ancestors. Before one knows, the practice has changed and now it is popular to send gifts to relatives and to a person to whom one would like to show appreciation. The appropriate time for such gift is fixed from early December until the 20th. Usually right before this season, a sales promotion heats up at the department stores and various kinds of oseibo gift sets will be displayed to arouse customer's attention. Originally, it is considered preferable to visit the receiver of the gift to directly express our thanks and present the gift in person. However, the more popular style nowadays is to have the shops and department store deliver the gifts, which have become possible due to improved convenience and logistics. More recently, some have opted to select the gifts from mailed catalogues from the department stores or order through convenience stores and shopping web sites.
Bonen-kai(= a year-end party)
Japanese year-end party is for the purpose of forgetting bad things and hardship of the year. In the past, people worshiped their ancestor and held a banquet the last day of the year as a year-end event. In Muromachi period (1392- 1573), people used to greet the new year while reading poems. Now the style has changed somewhat, and people usually go out to have dinner, drinking, or KARAOKE with company's boss, colleagues and friends. An impatient person would plan a year-end party from October in advance. It is said that this yearfs average number of year-end party per person will be around 3 times.
Oh-soji (= cleaning the house)
As we enter the year-end holidays, we start to clean the house, where generally all member of the family participates. A specific role is assigned for each member of the family. For children, a simpler task is assigned like wiping windowpanes, the door, and cleaning of the yard, for example. The beginning day of the clean-up is called gSusuharaih and dictates December 13th as the first day to prepare a new year in accordance with our beliefs that one shall not welcome a deity of New Year to a messy and unorganized house. However in reality, it is usually difficult to start cleaning from December 13 in modern times when you have several Bonen-kai's to take care of.
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