TOPTokyo LifeGuides & Insights2021 in Japan: What to Expect in the Year of the Ox

2021 in Japan: What to Expect in the Year of the Ox

In a year in which we look set to earn the right to hope, there is a lot to hope for

By Kirsty Kawano

Although it’s gotten off to a rocky start, 2021 will be a better year than the one we gleefully turfed a few weeks ago. According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Ox will be one of stability and diligent hard work toward new hope. After 2020 threw our plans out the window, in 2021, we start making even better ones.

There are twelve signs in the Chinese zodiac, known in Japan as eto (干支), named after twelve animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and wild boar. The years rotate through those signs in order, with each zodiac reigning supreme once every 12 years. The most recent zodiac years of the Ox sign include 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009 and 2021. If you are born in any of those years, congratulations, this places you among an estimated population of 10.66 million people in Japan born in the Year of the Ox, including Naomi Osaka and sumo yokozuna champion Hakuho.  

While Japan has already started its Year of the Ox, in China, it will begin on February 12. 

Essentially, the attributes associated with each animal characterize each particular year. Last year was the Year of the Rat — a quick-moving little animal that is not typically considered favorable to humans. The ox is the opposite of that. 

Chinese culture views the ox as a symbol of diligence, persistence, honesty and endurance. It values the ox for its role in farming and in heralding development. The main Chinese character used for the Year of the Ox (丑年, ushidoshi) is said to mean to turn or twist — suggesting a change of direction. It also expresses the condition of a sprout germinating inside a seed and about ready to burst through. Consequently, 2021 promises to be a year of working toward new growth.

The greater the hardship, the bigger the hope

In deciphering the fate that awaits us each year, as well as the animal zodiac, Chinese astrology also takes into account which of the five elements (fire, water, wood, metal, earth) the year belongs to and to which side it falls on the yin-yang dualism of light and dark. This year is a metal ox on the shaded, yin side. According to Mizuki Murakami, who has studied Eastern ideology and is a feng shui advisor, these two factors combine to indicate a painful ending and worry as a slow decline occurs. 

Murakami says those factors and the influence of the ox zodiac will play off each other and each strengthens the other. The size of the new growth indicated by the ox will be equivalent to the depth of the pain and decline, he says. The greater the hardship, the bigger the hope that sprouts this year will be. 

The Year of the Ox will be one of stability and diligent hard work toward new hope.

Moving from one of those extremes to the other requires caution and patience. Like the heavy movements of an ox, progress will be slow, which will likely cause impatience, making it a year in which our determination will be tested, he says. The strength of our convictions will determine the success of our actions, he says.

The influence of the metal yin this year focuses on logical thought, which makes it a good year for study, either of something new or something you’ve let slip. Hard work will be rewarded.

Looking ahead

The first test of Japan’s determination this year will be the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are due to begin on July 23. Despite Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga professing that we have that in spades, without first carrying out the diligent hard work of Covid-19 vaccinations, the people’s opposition to the Games will likely win out. Inoculation in Japan is expected to begin in late February.

Suga’s personal political fate offers a potential shift from decline to hope — though he may not see it that way. His term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ends on September 30, just ahead of the end of the terms of members of the House of Representatives on October 21. Heading into an election, Suga’s public approval rating of just 33% and his striking lack of charisma mean there is room for a challenger that would end the continuation of the Shinzo Abe approach. It would be great to see a bounce to an administration that is more sincere and attentive to the public’s needs.

The shape of 2021 will likely be most clearly expressed by the arc of the pandemic. As Japanese hospitals near capacity, the worst may still be ahead of us. Vaccination experts like Bill Gates expect it to take until the end of the year for vaccinations to be administered widely enough to overcome the coronavirus. He also says that research conducted to make Covid-19 vaccines has spawned new approaches to overall vaccine creation that will make them safer, more versatile and easier to produce. The seeds sown last year will flower in time. 

The change of U.S. president from Donald Trump to Joe Biden also illustrates the outlook for 2021, with an expected shift to more studious policymaking aimed at longer-term goals. Around the time that postponed events like the World Expo opens in Dubai in October, and the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26) is held in November, we may have greater insight into how we can improve global problems like social inequality and the destruction of our habitat. In a year in which we look set to earn the right to hope, there is a lot to hope for.