09_Cleaning the exterior walls of a 43-story high rise 226:227

Muji art director Kenya Hara releases a photo book on cleaning

The book, from Lars Müller Publishers, is divided into 16 chapters, each addressing a different cleaning method, from sweeping to clearing

Titled simply Cleaning, Hara’s book is straightforward in its mission, which is to address the challenges that nature offers to our “man-made” existence.

“We call environments that people have created in response to nature ‘man-made’,” the book’s introduction explains. “That which is man-made should be comfortable, but when materials that encroach upon or erode nature, like plastic and concrete, become widespread, people begin to yearn for nature. And yet, when nature is left to its own devices, dust and fallen leaves pile up, and plants thrive wildly. As a result, historically, human beings have lived by accepting nature to a certain extent and also keeping it moderately in check.”

It is this desire to maintain order that is documented in the book, via photographs taken by Yoshihiko Ueda and Taiki Fukao at various places around the globe in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and upended our daily routines.

03_A truck with rotating brooms sweeping fallen leaves to the side 92:93
Top: Cleaning the exterior walls of a 43-storey high rise; Above: A truck with rotating brooms sweeping fallen leaves to the side
Nomads cleaning carpets for the Persian New Year
01_Sweeping 399 steps from top to bottom 24:25
Sweeping 399 steps from top to bottom

Cleaning is something that is understood – and likely experienced, unless you are lucky enough to have someone take care of it for you – by every human being across the globe, yet it is an activity that is often disliked, even despised.

As such, it is a slightly weird subject for a book, though Hara takes the practice to the level of fetishism – at just 11.8 x 16cm, Cleaning is small in size, yet runs to 504 pages filled with photos of people dusting, wiping, raking, and purifying.

Some of the scenes featured are epic – the cleaning of a 150m-long ship, for example, or the Ominugui ceremony (the cleaning of the Great Buddha) at Japan’s Todaiji Temple. But others are everyday, such as the peeling of stickers off a road sign, or the dusting of the lights in a home.

05_Ominugui ceremony at Japan's Todaiji Temple 134:135
Ominugui ceremony at Japan’s Todaiji Temple
08_Cleaning a 150m-long ship from a large-scale dock 208:209
Cleaning a 150m-long ship from a large-scale dock
10_Cleaning the meditation hall starts early in the morning 266:267
Cleaning the meditation hall, early in the morning

As might be expected of a book edited by Muji’s art director, the scenes shown are mostly elegant and calm. There is none of the frenetic cleaning that we might personally be more familiar with, as we try to get the job done as quickly as possible, and instead there’s a feeling of meditation and mindfulness throughout.

What is eminently clear though, is that the scenes shown will definitely be repeated. But maybe there’s some reassurance to be taken from that. “When the entire world stopped, these photos and videos made us miss our ordinary
routines,” continues the introduction. “No matter how technology advances in the future, people are living things, embracing a rhythm of life that perpetually resonates in the depth of the body. We can move forward heeding this natural internal rhythm.”

Cleaning is edited by Kenya Hara and published by Lars Müller Publishers; lars-mueller-publishers.com