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New Years as a right of passage

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Wrapping up, letting go = moving forward with clarity


“Nothing gets left undone,” commented my dad, Robert Skurko, when I reflected with him about the energy that gets expressed in Japanese companies during the time of the New Year.




This New Year, I read Marie Kondo’s “Art of Tidying” and reflecting on the little-known secret of the New Year’s in Japan. More than anything, the season is about wrapping up and clearing the slate. It’s less about “having fun” and “celebrating” than renewal.


How does clearing the slate manifest itself?
From Ito Yokado to Sony, with every company I have worked in Japan, when the New Year came, we turned our office space inside out in order to clean. All old paperwork was tossed. There was dusting and cleaning. And then, last, but not least, was the creation of a slogan to help unify us in the year ahead. Then, as the New Year unfolded, we set about greeting those near and dear to us. In families, this involved extended days of eating New Year’s food. In the corporate setting, we were ready for quick cups of tea, or a personal phone call, to “greet” those whom we considered important to us.


Years later, living in Singapore during the New Year and then marrying into a Chinese family, I got to experience this all over again. As one friend confided, “We have parties as an excuse to clean.” She talked about the art of clearing and cleaning, at least once in the year, which was followed by greeting friends and relatives. Again, in Singapore, after all the clearing, lucky statements (couplets and Chinese New Year decorations) were placed in the appropriate spots.


What does this lead to?


Letting go of the past is not easy. In Asian cultures, they create momentum behind this act and encourage people to clean up, I believe, in order to move on.
This year, as we sorted and tossed in our own home and office, after reading Kondo’s book, I reflected more deeply on the force behind this act.


One image comes to mind today – seeing the beautiful Daruma, upon whose face we had inscribed our wishes with a single eye, burning at temples. Seeing Daruma and other beautiful New Years decorations from the prior year being burned (especially b/c they were so expensive and precious!) was, at first, a shock to me. Today, it reminds me of the bitter-sweet act of letting go.

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