The Secret Behind Japan’s 2015 Zodiac New Years Stamp

2003 and 2015 new years stamp

12 years later the sheep is back… | image by spoon & tamago

Amongst the many notable New Years traditions in Japan, one of them is sending nengajo, or New Years cards. And despite the number of cards sent being in decline, there are still about 30 million printed. For the design team at Japan Post, one of their most important tasks is coming up with the design for the stamp, which incorporates the zodiac animal of the new year, to be printed on all the postcards.

This year, stamp designer Ayaka Hoshino was chosen to design the stamp. Coincidentally (or not) she also designed the stamp 12 years ago. And if you’re familiar with the zodiac system you’ll know that this means Hoshino was tasked with designing the same animal as last time: the sheep. The design that she came up with is one that captures time and continuity. In 2003 the sheep was depicted knitting a ball of yarn. 12 years later the knitting project was complete! Whether or not this was all part of Hoshino’s elaborate, long-term plan? I suppose we’ll never know.

as highlighted this week in the Japanese TV show Asaichi, here is some bonus trivia about Japanese stamps:

  • the design team at Japan Post comprises 7 individuals, who are responsible for designing all of Japan’s new stamps
  • each year there are about 40 new stamps released
  • the sheep is the 2nd most popular zodiac animal for stamps and the 2015 postcard is reportedly selling well
  • the most popular animal is the rabbit and the least popular is the snake


  1. What a fun post! I shared the photo and some of the info in your post on my blog (with a link to this website). A reader pointed out that the current cancellation mark is circular knitting needles–two metal or wood needles connected by flex plastic! There is more— the cancellation stripes have TWO knitting needles and one Crochet Hook!! What a great and secret design!

  2. This is the cutest post ever!

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