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​1. The curtain hanging at the entrance is an invitation to enter the exhibit space. This split fabric curtain, known as NOREN, is part of every urban space throughout Japan. It can be seen, plain or decorated, waving at the entrance of businesses and restaurants from the moment they open until closing time, signaling that all who see it are invited to enter. We found it suitable to greet visitors to an exhibit dealing with cleaning tools with a noren made out of dishcloths bearing traditional Japanese sashiko - hand embroidery. Women in Japan traditionally patch together layers of old fabrics to make cloths for household cleaning. So, for example, a piece of a kimono from a fabulous event and a section of overalls which have soaked up mud from the rice fields are embroidered together to create a single cloth, bringing with it the happiness that is created through the act of cleaning. Each embroidery sample is reminiscent of something different – shark skin, feathers, waves on the sea, stars in the sky. These are sewn together in a square pattern that represents fertility in Japanese tradition.

​2. For many years, Japanese people would clean their toilets using a curved brush made out of stiff palm fibers. The unique shape of the brush was ideal for this purpose, but it was originally designed for cleaning large, traditional clay vessels which were used to store water, which was the only way to clean their inner walls. In 1980, the Japanese company Toto released the Washlet, an electronic bidet toilet seat, which took Japan by storm and became a must-have in every Japanese home. Over the years, the electronic seat has gone beyond basic cleaning and its range of buttons today offer users a wide range of options – from controlling the temperature of the seat and the water, direction and force of the flow, to playing background music for greater discretion in the bathroom stall. To clean the nozzle of the Washlet, special cleaning rings are common in Japan which make the task simple.

3.  In most neighborhood Shinto temples, a loyal community representative works alongside the priest to care for and maintain the temple, among other duties. Maazawa-san sits facing me, asking me to guess his age.  69? 70? “I’m 87,” he tells me with a huge smile. “Do you know why I’m so happy and carefree? Because every day I come to the temple at six in the morning to sweep it.” Maazawa-san uses simple tools that he makes with his own hands. He moves through the entire temple, sweeping every leaf that falls from the tree and dirt blown in by the wind. He scrubs the hand-washing stand which greets all visitors to the temple, an important cleaning institution in the Shinto tradition. The act of cleaning is what offers him inner peace and a wonderful joy in life.

4.  The hanko is a personal name-seal which is used for everything requiring a signature in Japan. This little seal uses red ink to imprint its owner’s name in one of the three writing systems that comprise the Japanese language. Receiving the seal is a special moment in a Japanese person’s life, symbolizing maturity and independence. There are a variety of solutions for cleaning the hanko, including a special brush, traditional paper that soaks up the ink, and a soft doughy substance which, with precise pressure, finds its way into the seal’s crevices and gathers up traces of ink. Hanko cleaning-sets keep the seal as precise as possible, without smudging the ink or causing blots which could affect its legal validity.

5. In August, at the height of summertime, Japanese people commemorate their roots with the Buddhist obon day, which is dedicated to the souls of dead ancestors. Children and their parents visit family graves with cleaning tools to polish the dark granite monuments. A bucket of water washes away the dust, a rag polishes the stone, and a special brush cleans the engraved face of the monument bearing the family name. The Aoyama Cemetery in the heart of Tokyo is one of the most beautiful sites in the city. The grave sites there seem to be tended with great regularity. Beneath the cherry trees and between the incense vessels and the fresh flowers, are to be found countless stories and memories of people past and present.

6. Beside every kitchen sink in Japan stands a “turtle”. For those around it, it represents characteristics of Japanese culture – wisdom, luck, and long life. The turtle was a new invention in 1907, when Seizaemon Nishio’s dream faded of creating rugs out of palm fibers (somebody beat him to it). His wife wisely decided to use the remaining fibers to create a cleaning brush she could use for pots in her kitchen. The couple’s invention proved long-lasting and is found today in every Japanese home: the kamenoko tawashi, known as the “turtle brush” for its resemblance to the shelled creature. The stiff palm fibers can handle particularly stubborn dirt, but they also retain their softness for use on ceramic and glass. 

7. We are seated facing the Shinto temple stage and viewing the priest - Miyake san . He greets us at the entrance, but then he wraps himself in vibrantly colorful garments and strides toward the left side of the stage on which the onusa is waiting. He lifts it up into the air, and it is clear to all that he is now purifying our shared space. The onusa is waved over our heads, and each person merits, one at a time, to be purified. The priest is performing harae, a purification ceremony which is one of the four central components of every Shinto ceremony. The onusa in his hands is made from a wooden stick with one end sharpened, on which strips of white paper (shide) are attached, usually with a hemp rope. The shape is reminiscent of a type of broom, and perhaps this is why the purpose of its use is so clear. Once a month, the strips of paper are burnt and replaced with new strips to preserve the onusa’s sanctity and its ability to purify.

8. For many years, Japanese people would clean their toilets using a curved brush made out of stiff palm fibers. The unique shape of the brush was ideal for this purpose, but it was originally designed for cleaning large, traditional clay vessels which were used to store water, which was the only way to clean their inner walls. In 1980, the Japanese company Toto released the Washlet, an electronic bidet toilet seat, which took Japan by storm and became a must-have in every Japanese home. Over the years, the electronic seat has gone beyond basic cleaning and its range of buttons today offer users a wide range of options – from controlling the temperature of the seat and the water, direction and force of the flow, to playing background music for greater discretion in the bathroom stall. To clean the nozzle of the Washlet, special cleaning rings are common in Japan which make the task simple.

9. From a young age, Japanese children are held in their mothers’ laps for regular cleaning of wax from their ear canals using gentle scraping motions of the mimikaki – a stick made of bamboo or thin metal. In Japanese culture, this ceremony symbolizes the bond between mother and child. Even though this cleaning device can be purchased in any convenience store in the country, throughout Japan you can still find places where women dressed in kimono provide ear-cleaning services even for adults seeking to feel again as if they are children being cared for by their mothers. A friend poignantly recalled how she had enjoyed cleaning her late father’s ears every day as a child. It had been their special time together, which later became a sweet memory.

10. The katana, a curved, single-edged sword, was developed in the 14th century for the samurai, the hereditary military nobility and officer caste. However, its primary use was not in the battlefield, but as a status symbol. The katana is made from several types of steel in various grades of hardness. Specialized craftsmen still produce them to this day, using a process which takes close to three months. To preserve the shine and sheen of the sword, it is rubbed with a blend of oils and fragrant extracts and dried using a fiber-free cloth. The cleaning process finishes with a few precise taps from the uchiko – a staff tipped with a soft, fabric ball filled with cleaning powder.

11. It is a Japanese custom to begin the year in the cleanest way possible, free of all stains, dirt, and bad influences that might have accumulated over the previous year. The Oosouji, which literally translates as “the Great Cleaning,” takes place before the new year. Along with cleaning, locals try to separate themselves from as many items as possible for which they no longer have any use. This happens at home, in the office, in schools, and even in public spaces. The cleaning traditionally begins with the highest points in the home, and the most efficient way to do this is a common tool called the hataki. It comprises a bamboo stick with fabric strips attached which easily whisk away any dust which has accumulated in these high places. Along with its practical aspects, there is a spiritual side to the Great Cleaning, which connects cleaning with good luck and new beginnings.

12. Yori San inherited her husband’s grandmother’s large kimono collection: dozens of kimonos carefully folded and stacked, wrapped in traditional paper for protection, in a rectangular shape that fits perfectly in the traditional Japanese dresser drawers. The kimono collection is sorted according to the type of fabric as well as the story illustrated on it to make it simpler to coordinate with the seasons of the year or one type of event or another (late winter’s plum-blossom viewing, for example). Wearing a kimono is in itself an important occasion, and a woman who leaves her home dressed in this elaborate robe must remain alert to every type of danger that could stain it. A traditional brush aids in cleaning the kimono. It is small and stiff, and it is difficult to imagine using it on the delicate silk of the kimono. The secret lies in making gentle, repetitive stroking movements with the head of the brush on the fabric. After cleaning, the kimono is gently folded and respectfully returned to the closet until the next festive event.

13. Japanese people catch many fish (about 8.5 million tons per year) and they eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fish that are caught have their scales removed using repetitive scraping motions using a unique tool made of wood and metal. Afterwards, the interior of the fish is cleaned with a brush made of bamboo in its original shape; today in Japan a modern bumpy plastic version is also commonly used. Sanitary conditions in Japan are so good that raw fish are served at room temperature, allowing diners to absorb the full flavor and sense their delicate texture.

14. Tatami mats came into use to cushion the wooden floors of wealthy Japanese homes during the 12th century, but only in the Edo period, beginning in the 17th century, did they become the most common floor covering throughout the country. The mat comes in fixed sizes, so in order to estimate the size of a room, it is common to simply say how many tatami mats can fit into it. Today, tatami mats are primarily found in traditional homes, but even in modern homes, there is often a traditional room known as the “tatami room.” Tatami mats are cleaned with a broom that was developed in the Kanto region of eastern Japan. It is made of plant fibers from the corn family which are painstakingly sorted and arranged to create the perfect broom. The delicate corn fibers do not damage the woven reed fibers from which the mat is created, and can penetrate deeply into the narrow spaces of the mat in order to clean them.

15. The path to the Japanese tea house passes through a traditional garden, which prepares visitors at its gates for the experience awaiting them. The tea ceremony does not focus only on drinking, but rather, also on the sensation that accompanies the supreme hospitality. The tea room and the garden leading to it are filled with symbolic aids that on one hand emphasize the efforts dedicated by the host, the master of the tea ceremony, and on the other hand, attempt to make these aids seem natural and effortless. Out of the corner of an eye, one may glimpse a pair of sticks which are intended for the final, almost-symbolic gathering of the leaves scattered throughout the garden. Their shades of green attest to the fact that they have recently fallen from a fresh bamboo stalk, whose color has not yet faded. They are resting above a stone alcove, testifying to the preparation which has been carried out for the guests’ arrival. In the tea room, coals burn beneath the iron pot in which the water is heated. These coals were created in a special process which significantly reduces the quantity of smoke they emit. When they turn to pale dust, light and fine, the tea master will clean it using light movements of a feather brush known as the haboki. The color of the feather is selected for each tea ceremony’s unique character. The most expensive haboki is made of a whole goose wing, which is quite rare to see since it serves to clean the tea room when guests are not present.

16. The kenzan is one of the basic tools used in Japanese flower design, ikebana. The ikebana tradition has a long history and deep ties both with the Japanese variant of Buddhism and with the social change that took place hundreds of years ago. Today, there are famous schools in Japan teaching the art of flower arranging, and they all use the same kenzan – a heavy lead plate with brass or aluminum needles in crowded rows. There are a number of special tools for cleaning the kenzan, particularly a small, gentle, rake-like pick that can pass between the metal needles. Another tool consists of a needle which passes over and cleans remnants of flowers that have stuck on the needles, and serves the additional purpose of straightening needles which have become bent between uses.

17. Before entering the hot bathtub the entire body is scrubbed from head to toe. That’s how it’s done at the sento (a public bathhouse), the onsen (which draws its source from a natural spring), and the ofuro (a home bathtub). The ceremonial cleansing of the body begins by sitting on a stool or on the floor beside a tap. The water fills a bucket to which soap is added and a small washing towel - always exactly the same shape - helps with the task of thoroughly scrubbing the body. Here, completely naked, members of the community gather for the most important social get-togethers of the day.

18.  Noam Levinger -  Kanata studies #4 (observes his body moves whilst cleaning) // video installation for 2 monitors,  03:40 minutes. 

The video installation “Kanta studies #4” is a continuation of the body of work by Noam Levinger featuring Kanta Mori, of which initial segments were premiered in Tokyo (2021). This video was created specially for Clean Motion and presents a visual research which traces the idea of physical memory and explores the gestures the body makes while holding and using some of the cleaning tools presented in the exhibit.

19. Conversations about cleanliness - a collection of interviews conducted by Arieh Rosen and recorded throughout Japan in the years 2019-2022.

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