According to the Chinese calendar, 2010 will be the Year of the Tiger. Here in Japan, we too will celebrate the Year of the Tiger, since the Japanese follow the Chinese zodiac in designating year names through the cycle of twelve animals. The tiger is third in the cycle, and was last celebrated in 1998. Last year (2008) was the Year of the Rat, and next year (2011) will be the Year of the Rabbit. But what about the tiger?
There’s probably some question as to how deep the average Chinese person (or Japanese person) goes into the symbolism of these zodiac animals, but I have always felt each animal deserved some scrutiny into its particular meaning, however slight. The tiger is immediately an icon of power, ferocity, cruelty, beauty and speed. It has been described as both aggressive and protective. In many places in China we see stone tigers serving as protective guardians at gates and doorways. In other places we see a link with warriors and the military, which promotes the aggressive view of its symbolism. And in Chinese Buddhism the tiger personifies anger.
Of course, some of us can’t help recalling William Blake’s poem “The Tyger” when this image is mentioned. At least that was my thought recently when I first began to consider what I wanted to do with my traditional New Year greeting card for the coming year. For all the years I have lived in Japan, I’ve spent a portion of my December days devising a zodiac-centered card to send friends and associates on January first. I have been doing that now these past few days, and have so far decided on two things at least. I want to use the first four lines of Blake’s poem, and I want to use the white tiger image shown above. How Blake’s words and the tiger image will eventually shape themselves into a greeting card is a picture still unfolding.