The Year of the Monkey


Happy New Year

It’s 2016.  I have been writing this blog for more than a year and I am thoroughly enjoying it, as indeed I hope my readers are, too.

2016 is the year of the monkey, according to the oriental zodiac, which is followed in Japan.  The image of the monkey is on the lid of a stationery box forming part of Shoemon Osaki’s collection of lacquerware.  It was done by Mae Taiho in the latter part of the 1950s using the chinkin technique.  This is a method of chasing and engraving lacquer and using finely powdered gold to express the design.  (See post Chased, Engraved—Chinkin 3rd December 2015 for more information.)

Up until now I have been stubbornly using the term “true lacquer” to distinguish it from any kind of synthetic finish, which may by some people also be called “lacquer”.  In future, however, I will refer to this natural material simply as “lacquer” as tapped from the lacquer tree.

The monkey is just one of eleven real animals, one imaginary beast and a single bird.  In order and with the Japanese name in brackets they are:  the rat (ne), ox (ushi), tiger (tora), rabbit (u), dragon (tatsu), snake (mi), horse (uma), sheep (hitsuji), monkey (saru), cock/chicken (tori), dog (inu), and wild boar (i).  There is a story to explain that order, which I would ask you to research yourself if you are interested.

The Japanese name is either the word that is in regular use as in the case of inu for dog, or an alternative.  A snake is usually referred to as a hebi  but in the list it become mi.  Similarly a rabbit is usually usagi but is shortened to u in the list.  Doing so allows for a rhythmic pattern to develop when all are recited in order.  At least, that is my interpretation of the use of these abbreviations but I may stand to be corrected.

Here the compass is simply divided into twelve sectors….
These eto as they are known collectively are also used to divide the compass and hours of the day.  The two diagrams are from We Japanese first published by the Fujiya Hotel in Hakone in 1934 (http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/misc/we_japanese_1950_combined.shtml).  My facsimile publication covers a multitude of interesting facts about Japan and has detailed information about the significance of each year and its creature.
If you are born in the year of the monkey, for example, it is said to be lucky as the samurai warrior Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was born in the year of the monkey rose from humble beginnings to be Shogun in the latter part of the sixteenth century.

Something similar is done with time, except it is divided into twelve sectors based on even number divisions.
But the year of the monkey is also thought to be unlucky.  The word saru, monkey in Japanese, has the same pronunciation as the word for “to part” or “to leave” and is therefore considered an unlucky year in which to get married.

Any further explanation of the uses of the oriental zodiac would take more than one post, so I shall stop now.

I will, nevertheless, wish you Peace, Love, Health and Happiness as well as lots of laughter in 2016.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright
Diagrams from We Japanese, Fujiya Hotel

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