2015 The Year of the Green Wooden Sheep

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illustration by Shumei Kobayashi – water colour and ink on paper

Shumei Kobayashi’s fine portrait of the Sheep presented to us earlier this year heads up our New Year Greetings.

I am a passive onlooker
I let bygones be bygones
Goodness brings me fortune
I believe in the human race
I understand the meaning of giving
My cup is never empty
I am loyal and just and in others I trust
I AM THE SHEEP

See here for your Chinese horoscope for the Year of the Sheep.

Separating sheep from goats takes on a new dimension in the 2015 Oriental New Year and leads to a journey through the intricacies of culture and myth. While we in the West may accept that sheep and goats are different, China saw each as a ‘A ruminant mammal, generally with horns on its head’, as a type of ‘yang’, indicated by the character 羊 , hence the possibility of 2015 being either sheep or goat. Ambiguities ensue from the Japanese adoption of Chinese characters, with 羊 (hitsuji) being adopted for ‘sheep’ and 山羊 (yagi), literally ‘mountain sheep’ being used for ‘goat’. Thus, using the Chinese character 羊 for the New Year 羊年 gives the Japanese no choice but the Year of the Sheep. Japanese New Year also commences more or less at the same time as the Gregorian calendar in the first two weeks of January. For me as an Australian, having ‘ridden on the sheep’s back’ for decades, the Year of the Sheep sounds far too Occidental for enjoyment of the cultural differences stimulated by the Lunar Year and Oriental astrology.

Of particular note to the arts, is the difference between the linear measurement of time in the Gregorian calendar and the cyclical measurement of time in the Oriental Lunar calendar. With roots in Buddhism, this cyclical appreciation of time is evidenced in the sensitivity to nature’s rhythms and to the inevitable rising and passing away of eternal cycles. This is evident in the conceptual and visual approaches of much of the art represented by LKG, and is undoubtedly part of the sensual and emotional resonance of Japanese art.

Further exploration of the origins of Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, reveals an ancient myth of a ferocious mountain beast that terrorised villages and was only scared of the colour scarlet, noise, and fire…elements of the regular Chinese New Year parades here and elsewhere. This beast was known as the ‘Nian’ and identified by the same character as that for year ‘年’ with the New Year celebrations also known as the ‘passing of the Nian’. Then there is the story of best friends, the rat and the cat, the rat tricking the cat about the date of Buddha’s invitation to the animals and the consequent omission of the cat from the zodiac and the eternal enmity of rat and cat.

See here for indepth reading about the Lunar Calendar and Oriental Astrology.