It’s now 2020 and the year of the mouse in Japan. But in China it’s the year of the rat.
Last year, it was the year of the pig in China but the year of the boar in Japan. The same, only different.
Both countries use the Chinese zodiac to name the years, but three animals have been changed in Japan …. or have they?
It got us thinking: we know the word for mouse in Japanese, but what is the word for rat?
Well, imagine our surprise to find that – unless it’s a pet or lab rat when it can be a ratto (ラット) or a lab mouse which can be mausu (マウス) – both mouse and rat are nezumi (ねずみ).
The kanji (Chinese character) for this is quite pretty, I think: 鼠
But surely we must be able to distinguish between the cute little mouse and the plague-spreading rat, you cry! Yes, surely!
So we turn to Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, and find this:
“Mice are typically distinguished from rats by their size. Generally, when someone discovers a smaller muroid rodent, its common name includes the term mouse, while if it is larger, the name includes the term rat. Common terms rat and mouse are not taxonomically specific.”
In other words, the Japanese is correct: a mouse is a rat and vice versa; it’s only a question of size.
But we’re not quite finished, because in Japanese the word for the first sign of the Chinese zodiac, the rat, is ne (ね) and the kanji looks like this: 子.
Despite this, most of the Chinese New Year greetings cards I found online use the character that Japanese uses for mouse/rat (鼠) and not the one shown above (子)!
Perhaps Japanese Chinese-New-Year greetings cards use 子?
I don’t know.