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As people in Japan prepare to celebrate New Year’s Day, among the most notable tasks of the season are housecleaning, which echos the timeworn ritual of susuharai (“cleaning soot from the timbers under the roof”) and placing shimenawa (sacred straw rope traditionally hung at the entrance to Shinto shrines) or kadomatsu (pine and/or bamboo decorative arrangements) at the entrance of the home.

But what are the origins of these practices, and how did they become symbolic of the start of the New Year’s celebrations?

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