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.