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Jyuuni-shi : Chinese Zodiac in Japan -Part 1- (For age and year)

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/20 Traditional Culture , , , , , ,

Jyuuni-shi : Chinese Zodiac in Japan


Some animals are different from the original Chinese version.

The word “Eto” means a combination of the ten Celestial and the Chinese Zodiac, but in Japan it is quite often used to refer only to Zodiac.
“Jyuuni-shi” is the correct word for the Chinese Zodiac.

…Hey, I didn’t know that!
I had believed “Eto” meant the same as “Jyuuni-shi” until I checked the word for this post.
Well, I try to be correct in this post, although “Eto” is shorter and easier to type.

The Kanji characters for “Jyuuni-shi” animals are completely different from the usual used ones, and those characters represent respective animals only in “Jyuuni-shi”.


[Age and Zodiac]

“Jyuuni-shi” is now mainly used to represent year for most of the people.
If you come to Japan around new year’s time, you will see many images of “Jyuuni-shi” animal.
The animal of this year is “Uma”, a horse, and every baby born under this sign is “Uma-doshi” (literal translation: horse year or horse age).

This year, every “Uma-doshi” male except a new-born baby is “Toshi-Otoko” (man of Year) and every female “Toshi-Onna” (woman of Year).
If somebody says “I am a Toshi-Otoko” to you, you will know almost the precise age of him, unless he looks incredibly younger or older.
Of course it depends on his birth date, his age should be a multiple number of twelve, because there are twelve animals (though I’m not sure if I can call a dragon as an animal) in “Jyuuni-shi”.

Also, when the expression “hitomawari” (one round) is referred to age, it means “twelve years”.
If you have “hitomarari” difference of age with somebody, you are twelve years younger or older.


[The chosen twelve]

How were those animals chosen?
There is an old tale, which I don’t know its original is from China or not;

Once upon a time, God announced that he would hold a race to choose animals for “Jyuuni-shi”.
A mouse won the race because it was on the back of a cow for almost entire route.
Just before the cow reached the goal, the mouse jumped off and finished the race.
This cunning mouse had told a cat a false date of the race, so the cat couldn’t participate it.
The cat got angry and that’s why cats started to catch mice.

Unchosen one

-Unchosen one-
Photo from PAKUTASO


[Hinoe-Uma in Japan]


As I wrote at the beginning of this post, “Eto” in the correct meaning is a combination of the ten Celestial and the Chinese Zodiac.
It consists of two Kanji characters; The first one is from Celestial and the second one is from Zodiac.
“Eto” is also used to represent year, but nobody really care what “Eto” year is except one – “Hinoe-Uma”, the 43rd term of “Eto”. (There are 60 terms in “Eto”)

In Japan, this specific “Eto” year is considered to be an ill fortune that lots of fires would break out, and a girl who is born in “Hinoe-Uma” is thought to eat up her husband to death.
Because it was impossible to know if a baby was a boy or a girl before birth, people tried to avoid to have a baby in the “Hinoe-Uma” year.
Even in 1966, the latest “Hinoe-Uma” year, birthrates were 25 percent less than the previous year.
There are still some people who don’t want to have a “Hinoe-Uma” wife not only for themselves but for their children.

Where does this sort of idea come from?
Five elements theory, which originates in China, is also related.
When you apply each Celestial and Zodiac to each elements, both “Hinoe” and “Uma” belong to fire.


If you want to see Zodiac in order and its element, click here.

Thus, “Hinoe-Uma” year is a combination of fire and fire.
Fire would be easily caused in the year and a “Hinoe-Uma” born girl tend to be quick-tempered (a bit similar to Western gingerism, prejudice and discrimination against redheads).
You may wonder “There are two characters of each which belong to fire, so there should be other three fire-and-fire combinations. Why does only this matter?”
It’s because “Hinoe-Uma” is the strongest fire combination.
“Hinoe” is stronger fire element than the other one, and “Uma” is stronger too.

How about a “Hinoe-Uma” boy?
In the older times, a “Hinoe-Uma” boy was thought to kill his wife like a girl kill her husband, but this idea is long gone.

Hinoe uma

-Literal image of "Hinoe Uma"-
Horse photo from Ashinari.
Fire photo from PAKUTASO.


-Yaoya Oshichi story-

Some people say a prejudice against a “Hinoe-Uma” girl is due to Yaoya Oshichi who was born in the specific year.
She is very commonly known as the person who put a fire with longing for her boyfriend.

Oshichi was a 16-year-old daughter of a vegetable shop keeper (“Yaoya” in Japanese), and her family took temporal refuge at a temple when her house was burnt down.
There, she met a boy and they fell in love with each other.
The family left the temple after their house was rebuilt, and she missed her boyfriend so much, she thought she could see him if her house was burnt down again.
In the Edo period, a penalty for arson was execution by burning.
She was arrested and executed.

Well, it seems to be true there was a girl who was executed because of arson, but details are unknown.
This Oshichi story became famous through fictional stories like “Koushoku Gonin Onna” (literal translation is “Amorous Five Women”. The published title is “Five Women Who Loved Love”) by Saikaku Ihara.
Some of authors of these stories described Oshichi as a “Hinoe-Uma” girl, but it’s not clear if it’s true or just a made-up.

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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