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Year of the Kotora

Cat Kotora with a new year's message

Some of you may remember my not-so-secret cross-stitch pattern for last year's zodiac animal, the Ox. Well, time marches on, and with it, Kotora's year has arrived!

Happy Lunar? New Year

Japanese social media accounts are currently chock-full of cute cat illustrations, accompanied by the phrase「あけましておめでとうございます」akemashite omedetō gozaimasu. But wait a minute, or a month even - the year of the tiger shouldn't start until February, right?

Well, sorta. Previous calendar systems in Japan have a long history of wonkiness, so it's no surprise that a few years after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Japanese government switched over to a Western solar calendar, and with it, a January 1st New Year's Day. True to their wonky past, this was combined with the 和暦 wareki system of naming years, meaning every year can be denoted two ways. For example, 2022 is ㋿4, or the 4th year of Reiwa (and the 10th year of Luigi). Given that even lunar new year's dates tend to vary across the globe due to calendrical specificities, Japan switching animals early isn't all that unusual, really.

A photo of cat Kotora, embellished with a teary face
Afflicted with a basic name...

Of course, the one thing I'm sure isn't confusing for people unfamiliar with Japanese new year, is cats. Who questions the presence of cats on the internet? A fool, truly.

But this isn't just a humorous reference to the shared ancestry of wild tigers and the domesticated housecat. The felines decorating people's 年賀状 nengajō postcards are, indeed, tigers! My own Kotora (小虎, 'little tiger') has, thanks to me, a rather boring, self-describing name, in the realm of "Miss Kitty". How can this be?

Tabbies, tigers, and tortoises

Come for the cross-stitch pattern, scroll through the linguistic explanation. As everyone knows, cats come in a variety of colorways. But English language internet tends to use more general or slang terms than technical taxonomy. People might encourage the adoption of a 'witch cat', or chuckle at the antics of an 'orange cat'. They might even name their striped cat something like "Tiger", like I did. But it's rare that I hear anyone describe Kotora as a 'blue tabby', let alone a "blue ticked tabby with a lilac dilution".

A 'torbie', or tortoiseshell tabby cat
Torbie cat Stormtrooper, aka "Stormee"

Cat colorways can get similarly complex in Japanese. Some are fairly straightforward; a 'calico' is 三毛 mike 'tri-colored', and designations like black, white, and tortoiseshell stay the same. But the tabby pattern is referred to as tora 'tiger', making a missed opportunity for Katamari Damacy to have a mackerel tabby-inspired 'fish-tiger' stage instead of the dreaded 'cow-bear'. Likewise, brown tabbies become 'pheasant tigers', orange tabbies 'tea tigers', et cetera. And of course, if you want to get really specific, all the terminology for that one torbie pattern your friend's cat displays exists as well, though, like English, it's less frequently deployed in casual cat chats.

An orange tabby cat prowling outside
茶トラ L.A.P.T.O.P. on an unenjoyable outing

In any case, the reason for the abundance of tabby cat illustrations across Japanese social media should be clear. As for other languages, I only remember my Mandarin-speaking roommate being delighted by my explanation of Kotora's name, with the important addendum of "it sounds very cute (in Mandarin)". Feel free to comment with any multilingual cat colorway knowledge.

Cross-stitching Kotora

Stitched viewed of a cat-faced cross-stitched pattern

Now that I've spent several paragraphs needlessly explaining why my cat is the basis for this lunar new year's pattern, I can spend one more explaining the pattern itself. It's almost the same size as my Cow pattern, at roughly 2.5" by 3.5" inches when stitched on standard 14-count Aida cloth. I used a traditional New Year's red cloth for my cow, but for contrast I think Kotora will ultimately be stitched on black - adjust the stitch color of the year numerals if you plan to do the same. I ventured to my local craft store's floss aisle to properly swatch the colors, but if you have a sizeable stash to bust, you likely can make do with what you have on hand. The first version of this pattern included back-stitched whiskers - but upon second look, I just couldn't unsee spider legs. I trust in your whisker freehanding skills, if you so choose.

Cross-stitch Pattern - New Year Tiger
Download PDF • 140KB

Once I've finished loitering and embroidering this project, it's time to get back in the kitchen to whip up some retro cafe desserts for Jelly January! (No, this isn't a joke. Please come back.) Over the next few weekends, I'll be exploring what makes up 'Showa era nostalgia' and yes, the gelatin aspect is relevant, I promise. If you enjoyed my panel on shoujo aesthetics, please look forward to it!


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