2014 is the year of the horse in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, if ya wanna know. Everywhere in Japan — except Okinawa and surrounding islands — the Chinese lunar new year starts on January 1st. Everywhere else, including China, 2014 will start on January 31st. Apparently, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar (along with many other Western technologies) during the Meiji Restoration.
Of course, Japan is famous for taking ideas from other countries and improving on it – or at least making it their own. Remember what Japan did to the automobile industry and, more recently, electronics? The “Japanese New Year” page at Wikipedia, and the more whimsical entry by Namiko Abe at about.com’s Japanese Language site give specifics. For now, for here, I’ll just say that one big difference between new year’s in Japan and, say, Canada is that in the latter we get together with friends and/or party; in the former it’s family time. Companies and schools close, and big cities empty out, relatively speaking, as people return to their furosato hometowns to eat and visit shrines. For some reason which, I have to admit, still escapes me, watching ekiden road running relay races on TV is extremely popular. The big one, with teams of runners from Japanese corporations, takes place January first, and is known officially as the , or simply the New Year Ekiden followed on January second and third by the Hakone Ekiden, a university-level version.
Fireworks are also a popular spectacle. Check out this amateur HD video of the Tokyo show:
For the record, R. and I spend each oshogatsu season in R.’s hometown in the countryside, along the wintry Sea of Japan coast. We spend quality time with family, visit shrines and temples, and – when I’m lucky – shovel snow.
Back to the year of the horse…
So, what does the year of the horse mean for you? “The year of the wooden horse is said to be a year for those who are ready for a thrilling year. It would [sic] be a year of opportunities in which a person must grab, if they want a prosperous year” writes Charmaine Come Clutton in International Business Times.
And what does it mean for me? I was born in 1966, another horse year, and this is my fourth time around – my second since arriving in Japan! Plumbing the depths of Theodora Lau’s informative web page on the Chinese zodiac, I learn among many other things that I am destined for “success as an adventurer, scientist, poet, or politician.” Hmn… I can make two of those work, but scientist and politician are awkward fits. Of course, I was the founder and president of The Greater Metropolitan Toronto Science Enthusiasts’ Association, but that’s another (true!) story…