The story goes that the Jade Emperor held a race for the 12 Asian zodiac animals and the rat tricked the Ox into taking him across the river only to jump off on the other side and race ahead to be first so the Rat starts the 12 year cycle. Oxen are frequently depicted carrying 3 straw bales as beasts of burden and also there are shrines that deify them wearing a woven red and white crown of sorts. Illustrated here our ox left the deceitful rat behind, cast off his burdens, and traversed the turbulent waters of 2020. Oxen also symbolize patience and perseverance, and as it emerges bright eyed and strong on the shores of 2021, remember this dear reader, the ox is you. Happy New year. 
When I lived in Tokyo I took up the Japanese tradition of sending a New Year’s postcard (nengajo, 年賀状) of that year’s Zodiac animal. The skinny vertical says the year (in a special year numbering system it’s also the 3rd yr of the Reiwa era cuz of the new emperor ) and the character below it is the special character for Ox they use only for year of the ox. The square basically says Happy New Year.
I’ve finally done all 12 animals so this is the last in the series. Check out the others here
2020 is the year of the Rat (In Japan rat and mouse are both called nezumi). Nezumi Kozo (Rat Kid) was the Japanese Robinhood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They used ladders for some reason to catch thieves in Edo era Japan and even had a special 4 ladder formation. Thieves traditionally wore head scarves tied around their noses and stole boxes of gold ingots. The new Emperor took the throne in 2019 ending the Heisei era and causing the year numbering renaming for a new era. 2020 is the 2nd year of the Reiwa Era. The zodiac year character for Rat is coincidentally the same as child (a different character for rat is used all other times).
2019 is the year of the pig (but in Japan it's the boar). In the old days they called wild boars "mountain whales". Even now they call young boars "melon boy" because they have stripes like a watermelon until the age of 1.
2018 is the year of the dog.  This dog is based on an Inu Hariko (lucky dog toys that are the protectors of children and pregnant women).
2017 is the year of the rooster.  White Roosters are auspicious symbols associated with the rising of the sun.  Onagadori roosters are prized and raised for their long tail feathers.  A phoenix usually sits atop Shinto Mikoshi shrines carried at festivals.  
Year of the Monkey 2016.  Keep reaching for the moon!
Go your own way in 2015, the year of the sheep
The top left says 2013 (in a complex Japan specific year numbering system) and the character below it is the special character for horse they use for year of the horse, different from the everyday horse character mind you. On the right it basically says “Happy New Year”.  Happy 2014, may the year of the horse gallop in like a noble steed, with you the samurai archer taking aim and swiftly striking down your fears, doubts, and obstacles standing in between you and happiness.
2013 was the year of the snake.  Red snakes are good luck and white snakes are the embodiments of gods.  The bottom left says “Happy New Year”, the single character at the top is “snake” but this character is special and only used to refer to the year of the snake and different one is used in everyday language.  On the right it says 2013 (with a complex Japan specific year numbering system).  The bad thing about gold paint is that it doesn’t reproduce well at all.  the good thing is that the real painting looks awesome with gold paint.  Happy New Year!
Its a real painting for once not photoshop yay!
2012 was the year of the Dragon. Basically the bottom says Happy New Year and the top says 2011 and the final box below that is the character for dragon.
Happy 2011!  Throughout Asia, because of an old story, it is believed that there is a rabbit on the moon (instead of a man on the moon).  Basically the bottom says Happy New Year and the top says 2011 and the final box below that is the character for rabbit.
2010 was the year of the Tiger.  Also part of an ongoing crow series of paintings.
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