Culture

What are the Japanese Zodiac Signs and Their Respective Animals?

We all have a zodiac symbol, right? I was born in late April so mine is Taurus (The Bull). But people over in Asia use an alternate zodiac system that most Westerners aren’t familiar with.

In fact, even the various Asian countries use different animals from each other! So what are the Japanese zodiac signs and their respective animals?

Well I’m gonna’ give you their names and the order that they appear in!

In addition to that, I’ll also show you their zodiac symbols (kanji) since they are different from the normal ones used for each animal in written Japanese.

Then it gets pretty interesting when we dive into the different things that each symbol represents like direction, time, and a catastrophic event.

Dun. Dun. DUUUUUUN!!!

Finally, I’ll show you which one is YOURS so you can remember it for yourself!

The 12 Japanese Zodiac Signs in Order

Here’s how to read the zodiac chart below:

  • Number of the zodiac
  • Kanji (or symbol) that represents it
  • The pronunciation in Rōmaji
  • The name of the animal in English

1.    ​​ (ne) = The Rat

2.    ​ (ushi) = The Ox

3.    ​ (tora) = The Tiger​

4.    ​ (u) = The Hare

5.    ​ (tatsu) = The Dragon

6.    ​ (mi) = The Serpent

7.    ​ (uma) = The Horse

8.    ​ (mitsuji) = The Ram

9.    ​ (saru) = The Monkey

10.  ​ (tori) = The Bird

11.  ​ (inu) = The Dog

12.  ​ (i) = The Boar

—​

What’s interesting about these is that some of the kanji used for the “zodiac symbols” are also used as common words in Japanese, but with completely different meanings and pronunciations from the chart above!

For example, 子 ​usually means “child” and is pronounced “ko.”

Very different from “rat” pronounced “ne” right? … Right? No, kids are like rats? WHAT!

Other zodiac kanji have kept their pronunciation, but still use an alternate kanji. An example in this group would be #10 tori which is usually spelled as  for “bird” but gets ​ as the zodiac symbol instead.

What other things do you notice from the above list? Recognize some more changes from the commonly used kanji and pronunciations for each animal?

Take a Look at This Picture, Then Read the Explanation Below

| Image Credit: Oilstreet |

When you look at this picture, does it remind you of a clock? This is what’s known as a 十二支​ (jūnishi​) or “12-branches.”

One branch represents each of the zodiac animals.

One branch also represents two hours of the day. The Rat (​) is from 11pm-1am and the pattern continues in a linear path from there.

One branch also represents 30 degrees out of a 360 degree circle for direction. The Rat (​)​ is north which you can see is marked by the kanji for north .

Since each branch represents one year, it takes 12 years to complete one full cycle. This is important to note because each cycle is given an element from one of five possibilities:

  1. Metal
  2. Wood
  3. Water
  4. Fire
  5. Earth​

Five full cycles adds up to 60 years which is what’s known as a sexagesimal system​.

Why does that matter? Well let me tell you!

Once every sexagesimal cycle (or once in 60 years) there is an event known as 丙午​ (hinoe uma).

丙午​ is known as the “Year of the Fire Horse” and it is said that women born in this year are destined to kill their husbands​!

You might think that’s a little superstitious, but during the last 丙午 in 1966 there were 400,000 fewer births than the previous year!!! [source​]

I guess nobody wanted to have a murderer for a daughter!

Were any of you born in 1966? Have any of you killed uhh, I mean… gotten really angry at your husbands?

Which Japanese Zodiac Symbol is Yours?

The cycle repeats every 12 years, so it’s actually pretty simple to figure out which one is yours by doing a little math.

But who likes to do that, am I right?

So I’ve gone ahead and done the math for you. Check out the signs below and see which one has your birth year in it!

Years of the Rat 

(minus every 12 years), 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Ox 

(minus every 12 years), 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Tiger 

(minus every 12 years), 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Hare 

(minus every 12 years), 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Dragon 

(minus every 12 years), 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Serpent 

(minus every 12 years), 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Horse 

(minus every 12 years), 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Ram 

(minus every 12 years), 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Monkey 

(minus every 12 years), 1932, 1944, 1956,  1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Bird 

(minus every 12 years), 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Dog 

(minus every 12 years), 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, (plus every 12 years).

Years of the Boar 

(minus every 12 years), 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, (plus every 12 years).

As you can see from the above, this current year (2017) is that Year of the Bird 酉.

My year is that of the Serpent 巳. I always did think that Slytherin was cool!

Which year is yours?

Pretty Cool when You Think About it.

I really enjoyed learning about the Japanese zodiac and all the interesting details like how it was used for direction, and that Year of the Fire Horse (i ain’t scurred!).

When you learn more about the Japanese culture, common reoccurring themes in anime and manga (like the conflict between tigers and dragons) start to make a lot more sense to you.

You begin to realize that learning a new language isn’t just about the words and phrases, it’s also about the spirit of the country, its legends, and traditions.

At least, that’s my take on the matter.

But what do you guys think about all this?

Do you like the Japanese zodiac? Is it cooler than the one we use in the West?

Which symbol is yours? (Use the chart above!)

Share your thoughts on it with a comment below!

8 Comments

  • GiuliaB

    Straight out right, Nick, I can’t help but asking. I am the year of the Bird (and thanks for doing the maths for us). What does it mean? What are the peculiarities of people whose Japanese zodiac falls in the Year of the Bird?
    Like you, I love all concerning far eastern cultures. In fact, I am aware that in the Chinese zodiac, my sign is the one of the Cockrel. So, here’s my next question: do the 2 zodiac systems have similarities in their meanings and in the way they are calculated?
    I hope you will write more about this subject, as I am sure going to come back to your site for more insights. Thank you ever so much 🙂

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, so the basic overall structure of the Asian Zodiac Systems are relatively similar to one another in things like how it works, and the progression of animals. That being said, each one does it slightly different since not every country has the exact same animals as the others. 

      You gave a perfect example of being “Bird” for the Japanese one, but “Cockrel” for the Chinese one. They are basically the same thing, but I guess you could argue the differences too if you really wanted to distinguish them from each other. Something to note is that the Chinese system is perhaps the most well-known and used one outside of Asia. 

      As for characteristics of people who were born in the year of the Bird, I don’t know too much myself, but looking around the internet it says that they are:

      Busy people who are devoted to their work, pretty outspoken, decisive, organized, responsible, and quite a few other desirable traits as well.

      What do you think? Is that fairly accurate?

  • Carol

    Extremely interesting. I always enjoy reading things about foreign countries so please keep the info coming. I would like to hear more about Japan. Japan is unique and interesting. Have you lived in Japan all your life? What do you like best about Japan? Is jobs in Japan scarce? Is it expensive to live in Japan? Can very many Japanese speak English? Also, please give me access to your website. I want to read everything besides the one page.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Carol, glad to hear that you also like to learn about foreign countries and cultures, and Japan’s in particular. You should be able to access the rest of the site by going to the main page @ JapaneseTactics.com or by clicking on Blog button on the menu bar.

      As for what I like best about Japan… There’s too much to pick just one thing! 

      As more of a general answer to your question, I tend to spend a lot of my free time doing things like playing Japanese role playing games, reading interesting manga, and watching funny anime.

      All of these originate from Japan, so to me it is a super fun and interesting culture. I really just like to spend time using the language with the stuff that they make since you get a deeper understanding and appreciation when you, for example, read a Japanese manga in Japanese instead of the English translated version.

  • Monica Bouteiller

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading this article. I’m an OX (Ushi). I’m supposed to be patient and when needed to speak, I speak skilfully. Also, I have a gift to give confidence in others and all this is to help me achieve success.

    This is interesting because I do like to give confidence to people who cross my path and do see much success. I’m definitely patient… perhaps too patient.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Haha, yeah I know what you mean. Sometimes the characteristics associated with your zodiac are spot on perfect, and other times you think, “Oh man, am I supposed to be like that? I better get on it!”

      I think one of the interesting things is that people with certain zodiacs are supposed to get along better with people of other particular zodiacs, and it actually ends up being true more often than not!

  • Trevor

    I went through your website with total amazement. from the first page that opened to when i clicked off there is something of interest. i have reviewed the zodiac sighs before and i enjoyed reading yours. As a martial artist and student of Japanese martial arts i enjoyed the language and culture pages. I have booked marked this sit for further reading.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Trevor, I am glad you like the site! I’m always working on making it better, and even though it is pretty young as far as websites go (about one year old), I’ve still feel like I’m just getting started on it!

      I’ve got lots of plans to make it better for people like yourself to use and learn Japanese, so be sure to check back often to see what’s new!

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