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.
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:
|Snake (or Serpent)||巳||sì||shi||mi|
The ten stems of the Calendar are derived from the 5 elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water) in their Yin (阴) and Yang (阳) 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.
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.