The Year of the Sheep - Hitsuji doshi

The Year of the Sheep
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2015 is the year of the sheep. The Japanese word for sheep is "hitsuji." The kanji character for sheep came from the shape of a sheep's head with two horns, four legs and a tail. Click here to learn the kanji character for sheep. "Lamb" is "kohitsuji," "shepherd" is "hitsujikai," "wool" is "youmou." Sheep are rare in Japan since the climate of Japan, which is very humid, is not appropriate to raise sheep.

Most wool and mutton are imported from Australia, New Zealand or Taiwan. The sheep's bleat is "mee mee." Click this link to learn more about animal sounds.

The Japanese have a custom of sending New Year Cards, called "Nengajou". Most people use "nengajou" as sold by the Japan Postal Service. Each "nengajou" has a lottery number printed on the bottom of the card, and people who receive the cards can win prizes. The winning numbers are usually published in mid January. Although the prizes are rather small, people enjoy it as a part of New Year's celebrations. Click this link to read my article, "Writing New Year's Cards".

The "Nengajou" also come with a pre-printed postage stamp. There are 8 varieties of pre-printed stamps that one can choose from this year. The designs include New Year's decorations, an eto animal (sheep in 2015), Disney characters, and so on. One of the stamp designs, which is a picture of a sheep, is becoming the talk of the Internet.

"Eto" refers to the Chinese zodiac symbols. Unlike the Western Zodiac, which is divided into 12 months, the Asian Zodiac is divided into 12 years. Therefore, the last time a sheep appeared as an eto was in 2003. The stamp of 2003's negajou was a picture of a sheep, which is knitting. The picture of the sheep on 2015's stamp is wearing a scarf.

There is an explanation on the Japanese Postal Service site that says, "編みかけだったマフラーが完成しました。 Amikake datta mafuraa ga kansei shimashita. (The scarf, which was in the middle of being made twelve years ago, is now finished.)

This is the first time that the Japanese Postal Service made a design linked with a previous eto animal. They are hoping that people have fun with this year’s nengajou, and also fondly look back on the time that has passed.

Like the astrological zodiac there are all sorts of things which influence individual people. The Japanese believe that people who are born in the same animal year share similar personality and character. People born in the year of the sheep are elegant, highly accomplished in the arts, passionate about nature. Check what year you were born in and what kind of personality your animal sign has.

Twelve zodiac animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Compared to the other zodiac animals such as the snake (hebi) or horse (uma), there are not many expressions including the word sheep. "Hitsuji no you (like sheep)" means "docile, sheepish." "Hitsuji-gumo (sheep cloud)" is "a fluffy cloud, floccus." "羊頭狗肉 Youtou-Kuniku (sheep's head, dog's meat)" is one of the Yoji-jukugo which means "using a better name to sell inferior goods, crying wine and selling vinegar."