New Year’s Celebrations: The Year of the Rat

The City of Pasadena hosts one of the biggest New Year’s Day events with the Tournament of Roses parade and Rose Bowl game, but your New Year’s celebrations don’t have to stop when the last floats are retired and the game ends. Two weekends this month, local museums will offer free New Year’s activities.

The year 2020 is the Year of the Rat and the element of Metal (from the five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water). In Japan, the Year of the Rat starts on January 1, but for the Chinese, Year of the Rat starts on January 25, 2020 and runs until February 11, 2021. And if you wonder, the Japanese don’t actually differentiate between a mouse and a rat, so Mickey fans, it could be the Year of the Mouse.

The Japanese American National Museum will be hosting a free-day on Sunday, January 5, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The special New Year’s events (O-Shōgatsu Family Festival) will include performances by Kodama Taiko, a performance by TaikoProject, lucky New Year foods like mochi, candy sculptures, face painting and Year of the Rat crafts. Current exhibits include “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Atomic Bomb” which ends on June 7 and “Fighting for Democracy: Who is the ‘We’ in ‘We, the People?” which ends on that day. The traveling exhibit, Perserverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in the Modern World” is also on display.

The USC Pacific Asia Museum will be hosting its annual Lunar New Year Festival on Saturday, January 25, from 11 a.m. This is also free with live performances, art making workshops and food trucks. You’ll want to set aside some time for the museum’s special exhibit by Oscar Oiwa because it includes an immersive 360-degree Dreamscape Dome where you can observe the magic made from 120 sharpie markers. While you were caught up in the hustle of the holiday season, Oiwa along with his assistant led four USC MFA students in the creation of this inflatable artwork.  The effect will make you want to paint all your walls white and take a sharpie pen or a hundred to it.  There will be a mattress for people to lie on and enjoy the work, but the space won’t allow a big crowd to plan for good time to visit and there might be a wait during peak periods. At this point, it is hard to tell.

Oiwa was born in São Paulo, Brazil and grew up speaking Portuguese and Japanese and also lived in Tokyo, Japan, working as an architect, where he started painting and showing at small galleries. A naturalized US citizen, he currently lives in NYC where’s he been for 17 years. Although he’s a city person,  his Dreamscape includes nature and while there are hibiscus flowers prominently displayed, don’t think this is any reference to Hawaii. Oiwa said that hibiscus are coming in Brazil. His works are more psychological and the “challenge” of the Dreamscape is making art with very simple materials, but he also likes to hide animals within the composition.

There are no rats in the inflatable Dreamscape Dome, but you’ll have to look for the black cats and the white rabbit. In the Asian zodiac, some cultures don’t recognize the cat as one of the signs and instead have a rabbit. In Japanese culture, it’s a rabbit on the moon making mochi, one of the traditional foods for New Year’s. Oiwa said that the cat represents shadow and the rabbit represents light. That seems very yin-yang. When you find one, the other won’t be far away.

The Year of the Metal Rat is supposed to be one of prosperity and new beginnings. The Rat is the first sign in the Chinese zodiac. People born in the Year of the Rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008) are hardworking, thrifty and optimistic. Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetō. 新年快乐 (Xīnnián kuàilè).

The Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more info contact (213) 625-0414 or visit

The USC Pacific Asia Museum is located at 46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101. For more info, call (626) 787-2680 or visit



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