Last modified on July 13, 2016, at 06:05

Chinese zodiac

This entry makes use of Japanese characters and will require Japanese language support to be installed on your computer in order to avoid the characters being replaced by question marks, or blanked out.

The Chinese Zodiac (干支 Japanese: Kanshi or Eto; Chinese: Ganzhi) is a cyclical system used to count days and years in the Chinese calendar. The zodiac is combined of two elements, namely the twelve signs of the zodiac (地支) (also called the "Twelve Earthly Branches") and the Ten "Heavenly Stems" (天干). These are combined to create an endlessly repeating sexagenary (60-year) cycle.

Whereas most people are probably familiar with the names of the zodiac, each of which is named after an animal (rat, monkey, etc.), few outside of China or Japan will be aware of the associated stem. The combination of the two will relate to a specific year within the 60-year cycle.

Thus, whereas the zodiacal year repeats every 12 years, so for example the Year of the Rat would be 1972, 1984, 1996, and so forth, the year of ko-ne (1st sign of the calendar and 1st sign of the zodiac) will only fall on the years 1924, 1984, 2044 and so on.

Other uses

The Zodiac was not only used to mark the year, but also time, day of the month and even direction.

With regards to time, the day starts at midnight, which is designated ne (rat, the first sign of the zodiac) and progress to each subsequent sign every two hours. Thus, 2pm would be the "Hour of the Horse".

Days of the month would also cycle through the 12 signs, a tradition which still holds in many shrines and temples to this day. For example, Inari shrines (稲荷, dedicated to the fox deity of harvests) would hold their annual festival on the first Horse Day of February and Benten shrines (弁天, the goddess of Arts and Wisdom) hold theirs on the first Snake Day of February.

The same principle applies to direction, with ne pointing due north, and each subsequent sign being assigned to the next 30 degree arc.


Certain years within the zodiac are better than others - a belief that persists to this day. A good example of this was the year 1966, designated as hinoe-uma (the Year of the Fire Horse). It is believed that women born during this year have a fiery temperament and could end up killing their husbands. This belief seems to be borne supported by the statistics - only 1.3 millions births in that year, compared to 1.8 million in 1965 and 1967.

The signs of the Zodiac and Calendar

The twelve animal signs of the Zodiac are:

Sign Kanji Pinyin On-Reading Kun-reading
Rat shi ne
Ox chŏu chū ushi
Tiger yín in tora
Rabbit măo bou u
Dragon chén shin tatsu
Snake (or Serpent) shi mi
Horse go uma
Sheep wèi bi hitsuji
Monkey shēn shin saru
Rooster yŏu tori
Dog jutsu inu
Boar hài gai i

The ten stems of the Calendar are derived from the 5 elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin () and Yang () formats. Every year that ends in an even number is a yang year and odd-numbered years are thus yin years. The 60-year cycle always begins with "Yang Wood Rat" and ends with "Yin Water Boar". 2008 would thus be seen as "Yang Earth Rat" (yang bo ne 阳戊子 ) and the author was born in "Yin Water Boar", a very auspicious year, as it signified the end of a 60-year cycle. In addition, as there are an even number of zodiac animals, each can only occur with yin or yang, thus the Year of the Rat would always be a yang year.

Sign Element Yin/Yang Kanji Pinyin On-Reading Kun-reading
First sign Wood yang jiă koh kinoe
Second sign Wood yin otsu kinoto
Third sign Fire yang bĭng hei hinoe
Fourth sign Fire yin dīng tei hinoto
Fifth sign Earth yang bo tsuchinoe
Sixth sign Earth yin ki tsuchinoto
Seventh sign Metal yang gēng ko kanoe
Eighth sign Metal yin xīn shin kanoto
Ninth sign Water yang rén jin mizunoe
Tenth sign Water yin guĭ ki mizunoto

The Current 60-Year Cycle from 1984 Onwards

The current 60-year cycle commenced in 1984. Below is the layout of the cycle, from the year 1984 to 2043, when the next cycle will commence.

Rat Ox Tiger Rabbit Dragon Snake Horse Sheep Monkey Rooster Dog Boar
koh 1984 2034 2024 2014 2004 1994
otsu 1985 2035 2025 2015 2005 1995
hei 1996 1986 2036 2026 2016 2006
tei 1997 1987 2037 2027 2017 2007
bo 2008 1998 1988 2038 2028 2018
ki 2009 1999 1989 2039 2029 2019
ko 2020 2010 2000 1990 2040 2030
shin 2021 2011 2001 1991 2041 2031
jin 2032 2022 2012 2002 1992 2042
ki 2033 2023 2013 2003 1993 2043