Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

December 26, 2011

Japanese Customs: The Zodiac

That the years in Japan are associated with the animals of the Oriental Zodiac can escape no one who sees their effigies on New Year cards, posters and calendars and who is amazed at the tremendous amount of clay dolls of the Animal of the Year sold in department stores and temples. By the way, 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon.

In the past, these animal signs were also associated with directions of the compass, seasons, days and (double) hours.

The Japanese zodiac consists of the following twelve animals, and rotates in the order given below:
  1. Rat (Ne) - the first year of the cycle. Symbol of industry and prosperity on account of its hoarding abundant supplies of food. The rat is also associated with Daikoku, one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, as it is shown gnawing on the rice bales on which the deity usually stands. Hours: 23:00-01:00. Direction: North. (2008, 2020)
  2. Ox (Ushi) - patient and faithful, as well as an emblem of spring and agriculture (ploughs were pulled by oxen). A lucky year. Associated with Sugawara Michizane, the deity of the Tenmangu Shrines, who road an ox when driven into exile. Hours: 01:00-03:00.  (2009, 2021)
  3. Tiger (Tora) - the king of the land animals, symbol of awe and terror, but also short-tempered. Tigers never existed in Japan, but were rather common in China. Hours: 03:00-05:00. (2010, 2022)
  4. Rabbit (U) or Hare (Usagi) - Smooth talking, but also an emblem of longevity. A fortunate year. Reminds people of the legend of the Hare in the Moon, pounding rice cakes, or the myth of the Hare of Inaba.  Hours: 05:00-07:00. East. (2011, 2023)
  5. Dragon (Tatsu) - Most important mythical animal in folklore. In contrast to the Western dragon, the Chinese/Japanese one is associated with benevolent constructive forces, as well as good health and energy. Hours: 07:00-09:00. (2012, 2024)
  6. Snake or Serpent (Mi) - Emblem of cunning, but also of the ability to increase money. Regarded with feelings of veneration due to its kinship with the benevolent dragon. The animal of Benten, one of the Seven deities of good Fortune.  Hours: 09:00-11:00.  (2013, 2025)
  7. Horse (Uma) - wild freedom. Represents the element of fire. An ancient animal in Japan.  Hours: 11:00-13:00. South. (2014, 2026)
  8. Sheep (Hitsuji) or Goat - art, elegance and passion. Symbol of a retired life. Not very numerous in Japan. Hours: 13:00-15:00. (2015, 2027)
  9. Monkey (Saru) - Clever and skilful. Symbol of trickery. Very prominent in fairy tales, as Momotaro. Hideyoshi, who rose from commoner to the highest status in the land, was born in the year of the monkey. Think also of the three Koshin monkeys "seeing no evil, hearing no evil, speaking no evil."  Hours: 15:00-17:00. (2016, 2028)
  10. Cock (Tori) - valor and watchfulness, a lucky year. Associated with the Sun myth and the Ise Shrines.  Hours: 17:00-19:00. West. (2017, 2029)
  11. Dog (Inu) - loyal and protective.  Hours: 19:00-21:00. (2018, 2030)
  12. Wild Boar (I) -  reckless courage and stubbornness.  Hours: 21:00-23:00. (2019, 2031)