Every year I have the same problem, finding royalty free Japanese clip art with a distinctly Japanese New Year theme. I'm involved with kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery, and we always have a new year's tournament that uses invitations, score sheets, prize certificates and so on. Japan uses the 12 year Chinese zodiac system so every year the animal changes and there is the additional problem that I'm not a reader of the Japanese language so finding the right decorative clip art is a real challenge. Fortunately I've found a solution I would like to share with my fellow Japanese language impaired clip art users.
English Language Web Sites.
There are very few web sites that are English language friendly and also contain Japanese style New Year clip art. One of them is Little House Graphics. For years this has been my go to site for finding the right zodiac animal combined with traditional Japanese New Year images like Shinto ropes, evergreens, bamboo bundles and other celebration images. You can read the usage guidelines in English then go to the menu link at the bottom of the page. You'll see the January images as the first choice. When you click that you'll be given the user name and password to use to access the 10 pages or so of images. The zodiac animal images start on page 5. Many thanks to webmaster Kumami for doing this year after year!
Japanese Language Web Sites.
There are large collections of free clip art on the web. But searching them for Japanese images usually results in nothing specific to New Year or you just get stereotypical images of samurai, geisha and Mt. Fuji. You can try searching Google images for "year of" or the name of the animal (2011 is the year of the rabbit) but even if you get a hit you'll notice the images are usually Chinese brush paintings or other Chinese styled images. Anyone who has spent time in Japan or looked at Japanese commercial graphics can tell the difference. Japanese culture is visual and there is a definite Japanese style and abstraction in their commercial graphics. When looking for Japanese clip art you are probably looking for something "kawaii" (cute). In fact, it is almost impossible to be too cute in Japanese graphics and using Japanese clip art will instantly brighten any document. The problem for the native English speaker is finding it. After several years of brute force googling for images I hit upon a technique for high quality searches.
Japanese New Year Cards ("nengajo").
Japanese send millions of New Year picture postcards called "nengajo" to friends and family every year. Many of them with images containing the New Year animal you are looking for. The trick is to use the search term "nengajo" the Romanization of the Japanese word for the cards. Just using that term in the English language Google search page will produce hits and direct you straight to Japanese, as opposed to Chinese, images. But don't restrict yourself to English language search engines.
Go to the Yahoo Japan home page and search for "nengajo" or "nengajo 2011" or perhaps "nengajou" because the final "o" is a long vowel and can be written with a trailing "u". There are dozens of such sites in Japan all of them offering Japanese new year card images and clip art. As an English speaker you'll have to click around the links to find the images but they are usually displayed in the middle of the page or in a column along the left hand side. Think of it as an online scavenger hunt.
There are dozens of such sites in Japan all of them offering Japanese new year card images and clip art. As an English speaker you'll have to click around the links to find the images but they are usually displayed in the middle of the page or in a column along the left hand side. Think of it as an online scavenger hunt.
My Favorite Japanese Site.
Since the New Year is only a few days away as I write this I'll give the address of a lovely site which is my absolute favorite. Just click on any, or all, of the links in the column on the left side of the page. There are hundreds of New Year cards and clip art images you can use for noncommercial use. In some of them a rabbit dons a cape and starts flying! It just doesn't get any cuter than Wanpagu's clip art.
I wish all my fellow Japanese clip art enthusiasts a happy and prosperous Year Of The Rabbit (2011)!