Happy Chinese New Year! It's 4706 and the start of the year of the rat, the first creature in the 12 year lunar cycle. When I first found out I was born in the year of the rat it was, to be frank, a big disappointment – a dragon, tiger or hare please, I don't want to be a scavenging rodent spreading fleas and living in sewers! I was obviously brain-washed at junior school by having to learn by heart long tracts of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", I had nightmares about those rats! No, we're talking rats with a positive spin – the rat that got pole position in the zodiac hitched a lift on the ox's back and then, with the chequered flag in sight, jump down and skipped over the line whooping "I won!!!!" I suppose that's similar to the igenuity needed to work out how to gnaw through a wall to get to the under-gardeners' layers pellets. So in honour of the lateral thinking rodent I made six little origami rats using some beautiful Japanese washi paper.
The animals selected by the Buddha to represent the 12 lunar years are a popular subject for Japanese printmakers. A couple of years ago I bought a print at a local auction and discovered that it is one of a set 12 designs by Hirosada depicting each animal of the zodiac. I wondered what Hirosada's 'rat' picture was like. It seems that recently a complete set of Hirosada's 12 prints has been sold, and they are described in detail here. Hirosada's 'rat' is actually the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV playing Nikki Danjô – a character who has supernatural powers and can disguise himself as a giant rat. It's obviously an Oscar-winning interpretation of rattiness!